Skip to main content

Full text of "American Indians and Yellowstone National Park: A Documentary Overview"

See other formats

Clemson Universit 

3 1604 015 415 815 



A Documentary Overview 

by Peter Nabokov and Lawrence Loendorf 














JUN 2 4 2002 


Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

LYRASIS Members and Sloan Foundation 



A Documentary Overview 


Peter Nabokov, Ph.D. 

Department of World Arts and Cultures 

and the American Indian Studies Program 

University of California, Los Angeles 


Lawrence Loendorf, Ph.D. 

Department of Sociology and Anthropology 

New Mexico State University, Las Cruces 

and Loendorf & Associates 

National Park Service 

Yellowstone Center for Resources 

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming 



This report was submitted to the National Park Service under contract number 1443CX 157093004. 
awarded to Loendorf and Associates in 1994. 

Funding was provided by the Ethnography Program of the National Park Service and the Federal 
Highways Administration in conjunction with the Parkwide Road Improvement Plan. 

Cover photograph courtesy Ake Hultkrantz 

Cover background image by Crazy Mule, c. 1880 (Friedlund et al. 1996: 1 1 ) 

Cover design by Renee Evanoff 

Book design by Peter Nabokov and Laurie Miller 

Production and design by Sarah Stevenson 

National Park Service 

Yellowstone Center for Resources 

Yellowstone National Park. Wyoming 




List of Figures vi 

Preface xi 

Acknowledgments xiv 

Introduction 1 

Chapter 1. Occupants on the East: Crow 35 

Chapter 2. Wayfarers from the North: Blackfeet and Flathead 69 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 101 

Chapter 4. Visitors on the West: Bannock and Nez Perce 161 

Chapter 5. Sojourners from the South: Shoshone 199 

Summary 237 

Bibliography 241 

Appendices 267 

A. Indian Trails 267 

B. Indian Uses of Plants 271 

C. Indian Uses of Buffalo 293 

D. Horn Bows 295 

E. Bannock Trail 307 

F. Relevant Indian Treaties and Documents 312 

jst oif Figures 


(Inset)Photograph of Pqwagap, "Water Bush," a Sheep Eater woman residing 
on the Wind River Reservation, by Ake Hultkrantz, 1948. 


Name-glyph for the Yellowstone National Park geyser field, from map drawn 
by Northern Cheyenne army scout, Crazy Mule, c. 1880 (Friedlund et al. 1996: 1 1 ). 

1.1 31 

Map of approximate tribal territories in and around the Yellowstone Plateau, c. 

MAP 33 

Indian Trails of Yellowstone. 

1.1 35 

Crow Indians at opening ceremony for East Entrance to Yellowstone National 
Park, Spring, 1927. White Man Runs Him (Right) and Max Big Man (Photo 
courtesy of Montana Historical Society, Haynes Foundation Collection #H- 
27006, J.E. Haynes, Photographer). 

1.2 38 

Crow consultant GBT, pointing to Shoshone River gorge, site of supernatural 
beings, 1995. 

1.3 39 

Crow women picking berries, 1913 (Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Institution, 
National Anthropological Archives #79-8487). 

1.4 43 

View of cave floor during the excavation MS 29 of CL# 1-2-3, 1963 (Photo 
courtesy of Buffalo Bill Historical Center Library). 

1.5 44 

Profile of human occupation layers at Mummy Cave. Projectile points change 
from Paleo-Indian lanceolate forms at deepest layers up through side-notched 
and then stemmed forms (Courtesy of Buffalo Bill Historical Center Library). 

1.6 50 

Map of Crow Indian Country, c. 1855 (from "Of The Crow Nation, "Bureau of 
American Ethnology, Bulletin 151, Anthropological Papers No. 33, p. 21 ). 

1.7 54 

Crow Indians at Yellowstone National Park, Lamar Valley, during 1927 buffalo 
roundup (Photo courtesy of Yellowstone National Park Archives, Catalog 
#YELL 37795). 

1.8 59 

Kiowa Consultant SC with family visiting Dragon's Mouth, site of "Heart of 
God" narrative, 1993 (Photo courtesy of SC, Anadarko, Oklahoma). 

1.9 64 

The Indian pageant that never came to Yellowstone National Park. Cast of "The 
Masque of the Absaroka." produced by Jessie Donaldson Schultz and Martha 
Maxey with the assistance of Max Big Man and Crow Indian actors (photo 
from Lifeways of Intermontane and Plains Montana Indians, edited by Leslie 
B. Davis, Museum of the Rockies Occasional Papers, N.l, 1979, p. 42). 


1.10 65 

Crow Indians during dedication of Plenty Coups Tablet on Cody Road (Photo 
courtesy of Yellowstone National Park Archives, Catalog #YELL 37805). 

1.11 68 

Crow consultant GBT at Yellowstone Lake, checking over park map with 
Lawrence Loendorf, 1995. 

2.1 69 

Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Horace Albright Adopted by Crow 
Indians at Gallatin Gateway Opening (Photo courtesy of Yellowstone National 
Park Archives, Catalog #YELL 37799-2). 

2.2 71 

Probable Indian hunting blind (screen bottom) across from Electric Peak over- 
looking Yellowstone River, 1996. 

2.3 75 

Pelican Creek site of Osborne Russell's battle with Blackfeet (Photo courtesy 
of Yellowstone National Park Archives, Catalog #YELL 37880). 

2.4 77 

Map of Piegan-Blackfeet aboriginal hunting territory, which includes portion 
of Yellowstone National Park within southern perimeter (From The Sun Came 
Down by Percy Bullchild, 1985, n.p.). 

2.5 81 

Folklore from tribes to the north and west of Yellowstone National Park both 
feature the mythic being, Coyote, striving to procure fish for the Indians on 
either side of the Continental Divide in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. But 
while Coyote is only successful in establishing smaller fish for highland dwell- 
ers on the western side, as this illustration by Flathead artist Frederick E. Roullier 
shows he fails entirely to capture salmon for Indians on the "dawn side of the 
mountains." This explains why it will largely be buffalo that these Plains peoples 
will pursue in the future (from Coyote Tales of the Mountain Salish by Harriet 
Miller and Elizabeth Harrison from tales narrated by Pierre Pichette. Rapid 
City, South Dakota: The Tipi Shop, 1974, p. 19). 

2.6 82 

Pierre Pichette, Salish-Kootenai oral historian and storyteller, from Coyote Tales 
of the Montana Salish by Harriet Miller and Elizabeth Harrison from tales nar- 
rated by Pierre Pichette, illustrations by Frederick E. Roullier, Rapid City, South 
Dakota: The Tipi Shop, 1974, Page 7). 

2.7 86 

Kootenai-Salish Consultant, TT, at Obsidian Cliff. 
2.8 91 

Crow Indians driving buffalo in Lamar Valley for filming of The Thundering 

Herd (Photo courtesy of Yellowstone National Park Archives, Catalog #YELL 


2.9 93 

Michael Pablo, Flathead Indian rancher, early supplier of buffalo to Yellow- 
stone National Park (from A Short History of the American Bison by Martin S. 
Garretson. New York: The American Bison Society, 1934. p. 56). 

2.10 94 

Effigy of buffalo found in Absaroka Mountains, (Photo courtesy of National 
Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Catalog #77-13300). 


2.11 97 

Elk carcasses in Yellowstone National Park before distributing to Indian reser- 
vations. 1930s (Photo courtesy of Yellowstone National Park Archives. Catalog 
#YELL 28591-2). 

2.12 98 

Indian schoolchildren being fed Yellowstone National Park elk. 1930s (Photo 
courtesy of Yellowstone National Park Archives, Catalog #YELL 109352). 

3.1 101 

Indian lodges near Sheep Eater Canyon Bridge, Yellowstone National Park. 
1915 (Photo courtesy of Haynes Foundation Collection, Montana Historical 
Society, #H-6066). 

3.2..'. 114 

Lanceolate blades from the Wahmuza site in eastern Idaho (reproduced in Woods 

3.3 117 

Though Assiniboine rather than Sheep Eater, this photo suggests how pack 
dogs were used by high Plains Indian hunters (From E.S. Curtis, The American 
Indian, folio 18. plate 630. reproduction courtesy of Buffalo Bill Historical Cen- 
ter, Cody, Wyoming). 

3.4 118 

Shoshone knife found on the surface of Yellowstone National Park. Tip is bro- 
ken but the tool displays the re-sharpening that characterizes these artifacts. 
Shown at approximately actual size. Artifact #6527. 

3.5 119 

Examples of possible Wahmuza lanceolates found on the surface of Yellow- 
stone National Park. Shown at approximately actual size. Left to right artifact 
#'s 6626, 6630, 9494 and 7044. 

3.6 122 

Yellowstone National Park historian Aubrey Haines inspecting a steatite bowl 
(Photo courtesy of Yellowstone National Park Archives. Catalog #YELL 37847- 

3.7 124 

Collection of steatite bowls recently found in Sheep Eater country (Collection 
of Dubois Museum, Dubois, Wyoming). 

3.8 128 

Obsidian Cliff. Yellowstone National Park. 
3.9 133 

Photograph of Pawagap, "Water Bush," a Sheep Eater woman residing on the 

Wind River Reservation, by Ake Hultkrantz, 1948. 

3.10 140 

Shoshone Dick Washakie with string offish (Photo courtesy of American Heri- 
tage Center. University of Wyoming). 

3.11 146 

Scholar Ake Hultkrantz at Sheep Eater Cliffs, July 1994. 

3.12 153 

Which Sheep Eaters are they.' Exhibit on Yellowstone National Park's Sheep 
Eaters in Mammoth Museum, employing cutout photo of "Sheep Eaters" taken 
by William Henry Jackson along Idaho's Medicine Lodge Creek, actually over 


a hundred miles to the southwest of West Yellowstone (Photo courtesy of Yel- 
lowstone National Park Archives, Catalog #YELL 34259). 

3.13 157 

Rock art image identified as Shoshonean spirit known as Water Ghost Woman 
(Drawing by Linda A. Olson). 

4.1 161 

Northern Shoshone and Bannock at opening of West Yellowstone Gate En- 
trance (Courtesy of Yellowstone National Park Archives, Catalog #YELL 

4.2 164 

Sequence of artifact sites at Wahmuza site to west of Yellowstone National 

4.3 165 

Map of Bannock Indian Trail and associated hunting areas (map by Aubrey L. 
Haines, from his The Bannock Indian Trail, Yellowstone Library and Museum 
Association, 1964. pp. 4-5). 

4.4 168 

Park historian Replogle standing on remnants of Bannock Trail (Photo cour- 
tesy of Yellowstone National Park Archives, Catalog #YELL 37838-1). 

4.5 171 

Bannock Indian brush lodge (Photo courtesy of Idaho State Historical Society, 
Catalog #77-69.4). 

4.6 176 

Northern Shoshone (Photo courtesy of Yellowstone National Park Archives, 
Catalog #YELL 8134). 

4.7 181 

Nez Perce warriors revisiting site of Baronette Bridge, which they partially 
destroyed in 1877 (Photo courtesy of Yellowstone National Park Archives, Cata- 
log #YELL 37810). 

4.8 184 

Scheme of map by Cheyenne Indian scout, Crazy Mule, depicting Yellowstone- 
Milk river country, with insets from actual map showing Yellowstone geyser 
field (From Fredlund et. al., 1996, p. 14-15). 

4.9 189 

Map of Nez Perce and Bannock-Paiute Wars (adapted from Frontier Regulars: 
The United States Army and the Indian, 1866-1891 by Robert M. Utley, Univer- 
sity of Nebraska Press, 1973, p. 302). 

4.10 191 

Indian "wars" along the western flank of Yellowstone National Park have in- 
fluenced popular thinking about the historical role of Yellowstone's Indians 
down to the present day. This cover of a pulp western novel set in the park 
features warlike Indians and the U.S. cavalry company assigned to drive them 
out (Easy Company in Colter's Hell, by John Wesley Howard. New York: Jove 
Publications, 1981). 

5.1 199 

Indian tipis near southern entrance to park (Photo courtesy of Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park Archives, Catalog #YELL 37784). 

5.2 201 

Sign for Teton overlook, named after Sheep Eater guide and medicine man. 

5.3 205 

Eastern Shoshone Indians at Fort Washakie with Chief Washakie mounted at 
far right. August 1883 (Courtesy of Haynes Foundation Collection, Montana 
Historical Society. Catalog #H-I0I1. photographer F. Jay Haynes). 

5.4 208 

Dick Washakie ( left ) guiding Owen Wister Party into Buffalo Fork (Photo cour- 
tesy of American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming). 

5.5 214 

Drawing of Camas plant from Guide to Common Edible Plants of British Co- 
lumbia by Adam F. Szczawinski and George A. Hardy. Illustrated by Frank L. 
Beebe, Victoria, B.C.; British Columbia Provincial Museum, Aug. 1967, page 


5.6 216 

Ake Hultkrantz at Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park. July 26. 

5.7 220 

Old Indian campsite in Yellowstone thermal area, near Lone Star Geyser (Photo 
courtesy of Yellowstone National Park Archives, Catalog #YELL 37824). 

5.8 223 

Crow Indian Max Big Man and wife at Yellowstone National Park geyser (Photo 
courtesy of Yellowstone National Park Archives. Catalog #YELL 37806). 

5.9 225 

Indian rituals return to Yellowstone National Park. In an effort "to restore the 
harmony between animals and men and the earth" which an Ojibwa, a Sioux- 
Crow and a non-Indian friend of theirs believed had been "disrupted by recent 
events such as the killing of bison who wander out of the Park." they were 
permitted to hold a Sun Dance above Blacktail Deer Creek in late June 1997 
(Billings Gazette. Sunday Magazine Section, p. 1E-2E. June 29. 1997). 

5.10 ". 234 

Wind River Reservation consultants of scholar Ake Hultkrantz who were ei- 
ther Sheep Eaters or in-laws to Sheep Eaters: (upper left) DT, Sheep Eater, 
1948; (upper right) JG. part Sheep Eater. 1955; (lower left) TD, married to 
Sheep Eater woman; (lower left) CS, Sheep Eater, 1948. (Photographs cour- 
tesy of Ake Hultkrantz. ) 

It is with trepidation that any new research- 
ers attempt to add to the voluminous scholarship 
associated with the history of Yellowstone National 
Park, or to position their findings under the high 
standards established by over a century's worth of 
chronicles from such historians as Hiram Martin 
Chittenden, Aubrey L. Haines, Paul Schullery and 
Lee H. Whittlesey. In so far as the human history 
of the region is concerned, hardly a trail in Yel- 
lowstone National Park would seem to have gone 
undocumented, a ranger station unrecorded, a 
bridge unmeasured, a place-name unplumbed, or 
an unusual character even remotely connected with 
the place unprofiled. This goes equally for the natu- 
ral history of this "crown jewel of the nation's park 
system." So it is with some hesitation that we sug- 
gest that a major dimension of the culture-and- 
nature history of our nation's first, largest and most 
famous natural reserve deserves a second look. 

Many histories of Yellowstone National Park 
shuttle back and forth between topics associated 
with the historical or cultural aspects of the park 
since its exploration and establishment in the late 
19th century, and topics related to scientific sub- 
jects deriving from the park's unique biological, 
geological and ecological attractions. One prob- 
lem with the subject and themes of the "missing 
Indian chapters" of park history, however, is that 
until the present day the subject of American Indi- 
ans and Yellowstone seems to have fallen into the 
crack that lies between those two broad areas of 
inquiry — between "culture" and "nature." The 
evolving place of American Indians in the long 
history of Yellowstone National Park turns out to 
have been underplayed over the years in part be- 
cause of the Euro-Americans' ever-shifting notions 
and academic debates over how to categorize and 
characterize the Indians' role in the cultural his- 

tory of North America in the first place. Over the 
years, the answer to the question of whether Indi- 
ans were to be considered part of the "natural" or 
"cultural" history of the park seems to have been 
answered by default, by the implications built into 
its representations of Indians rather than by any 
conscious or overt inquiry. 

As for any native "historical" relationships 
to the park, Indians have generally been confined 
to the dramatic incident when they engaged in 
warfare with the United States in the park — the 
Nez Perce misadventures in 1877. While any "cul- 
tural" ties have more often than not been observed 
in the negative: Indians steered clear of the park's 
heartland because of their fear of its geysers. 
Throughout a century and a half of scattered com- 
mentaries and uncoordinated representations on 
Indians and the park, this confusion about whether 
Indians were to be considered more a part of "na- 
ture" or "history" or "culture" has underlain the 
mixed messages concerning the relationships be- 
tween the park and its Indians — with any finer 
tribal distinctions generally ignored in the process. 

But this confusion about how to categorize 
Indians must have arisen from somewhere. Its roots 
sprang from the park's mandate, which was, ini- 
tially, to provide a prototype for natural preserves 
that would save "wilderness," preserving its monu- 
mental landscapes that the New World enjoyed as 
competition with the man-made monuments of Old 
Europe, and, somewhat later, protecting the wild- 
life from developers and poachers. Yet during 
roughly the same era as Yellowstone was being 
conceived, as historian Mark Spence has percep- 
tively pointed out, another sort of preserve with a 
different agenda was being created for the Ameri- 
can Indians who had lived in or moved through 
the park. Rather than a refuge for preserving bio- 


logical species, the Indian reservation was devoted 
to transforming cultural species under the guiding 
evolutionary theory of the day: Indians needed to 
be "assimilated" into the broader culture, and to 
abandon their ties to "nature." In the late 19th cen- 
tury this was considered the only humane alterna- 
tive to killing them off. The grander role of the 
park in this broad context of western history was 
quite clear in the mind of Yellowstone National 
Park Superintendent General S.B.M. Young in 
1907. when he supervised a report on the park 
which stated explicitly: 

Looking back a full century we find that 
the story of the Yellowstone Park is a se- 
quential link in the chain of epochal events 
which commenced with the purchase by 
the United States of the then uncharted 
wilderness called the 'Louisiana Territory.' 
the subsequent expedition of Lewis and 
Clark, the discovery of gold, the conquest 
of the savages, and all the epic deeds which 
achieved at last the winning of the west 
[Raftery 1943:102]. 

From a contemporary perspective, the situa- 
tion strikes us as a Gordian Knot of ironies, but 
one which remains tightly tied to this day. So long 
as Indians were seen as part of "nature," they 
proved to be the one species who were not allowed 
to stay in their natural habitat, because the part of 
them that belonged to "history" was a threat to the 
Euro-Americans who had risen sufficiently enough 
above their "natural" state to develop culture and 
keep it distinct from nature through the very in- 
vention of such preserves. But if Indians were to 
be considered part of "culture," then their claims 
to the region might compete with those of the Euro- 
Americans, which was unacceptable. At the same 
time, as scholars who began studying western In- 
dian societies within this period started to write 
about the intricacies of and contrasts between dif- 
ferent Indian "cultures." the ambivalence over how 
they were to be lumped together became more 
problematic. Early park officials were government 
employees with a growing exposure to and appre- 
ciation for scholarship, at least in the budding field 
of "natural" science. It was in their self-interest. 
therefore, to admit that to some degree Indians 
were part of "culture" and hence ineligible for any 
claims to a "natural" refuge like birds or mam- 

mals. At the same time, any claims their "culture" 
might have made to the Yellowstone National Park 
region could threaten the government's insistence 
that this was a pristine natural wilderness. Hence 
it makes some sense why officials never felt pro- 
voked to explain or explore Hiram Chittenden's 
observations in 1895 that, "It is a singular fact in 
the history of Yellowstone National Park that no 
knowledge of that country seems to have been 
derived from the Indians. . . .Their deep silence con- 
cerning it is therefore no less remarkable than 
mysterious" (Chittenden 1895:8, 99). Appreciat- 
ing the troublesome presence of Indians in Yel- 
lowstone National Park's history and ideology also 
helps to clarify why any cultural theories which 
did explain Indian absences from the park region 
might have been looked upon favorably, why fund- 
ing for surveying the possible extent and intensity 
of early Indian occupancy or uses of the park and 
environs was never plentiful, and why no full time 
park cultural or archaeological advisors were ap- 
pointed until the 1990s. 

One reason for these unwritten chapters is 
that it was not considered to the park's best inter- 
ests to acknowledge any Indian role in its cultural 
history. As we shall see, early Yellowstone offi- 
cials went out of their way to get Indians to prom- 
ise to stay away from the park. And hence, as Yel- 
lowstone National Park ranger Merrill D. Beal 

These agreements were widely advertised, 
and in order to further neutralize any fear 
of Indian trouble a policy of minimizing 
past incidents was evolved. The recent in- 
vasions were represented as unprec- 
edented, actually anomalous. Indians had 
never lived in Yellowstone, were infrequent 
visitors because they were afraid of the 
thermal activity! It was not a conspiracy 
against truth, just an adaptation of business 
psychology to a promising national resort 
[Beal 1949:91]. 

But the received wisdom and recycled sce- 
narios regarding the official picture of the rela- 
tionships between different American Indian 
peoples and Yellowstone National Park can also 
be attributed to what are now called "paradigm 
shifts" in the history of the social sciences and in 
the discipline of history as well. Add to these shift- 


ing angles of scholarly vision and interest the fact 
that public agencies, with meager resources and 
burgeoning clientele, are often a half-step behind 
new paradigms that trickle down from academia, 
and one can understand why our understanding of 
the roles played by Indians in the symbol-dense 
areas like our nation's parks — and Yellowstone 
above all — might be a bit behind the times. 

In the body of this document we will assay 
some of the more down-to-earth reasons for the 
dearth of both archaeological and ethnographic 
data on the park. At the same time, we hope to 
offer sufficient evidence, teased from myriad 
sources, that the cause of conceptually, at least, 
reintroducing American Indians into the park's 
representations of itself is a task that remains pos- 
sible and worth the trouble. To this end we have 
made the best possible effort, within our temporal 
and funding constraints, to revivify and 
contextualize what native narratives we could find, 
to conduct a fresh sieving of archival materials, to 
root out oft-ignored field notes of earlier ethnog- 
raphers. We make no pretense at having produced 
anything close to a complete composite of the eth- 
nographic resources of Yellowstone National Park. 

Yet we caution future researchers or writers on 
Indians and the park to hesitate before making 
definitive statements about the loss of this or that 
tradition. As the examples of the Kiowa mythic 
narrative in Chapter 1 and Plenty Coups' histori- 
cal buffalo hunt in the park in Chapter 3 suggest, 
tattered oral tradition can reveal an unusually 
strong life-force and can crop up in the most un- 
likely places. 

The original version of this report concluded 
with a fifteen-page section called Concerns and 
Recommendations which combined the comments 
and attitudes of our American Indian consultants 
regarding various aspects of park policy with ob- 
servations and additional data based on three sum- 
mer seasons of field and library research. We sin- 
cerely hope that our ten recommendations will help 
to ameliorate any preexisting problems, or poten- 
tial stumbling blocks that might arise, between In- 
dians groups and park policies in the future. This 
Concerns and Recommendations section is on file 
and available for review with the Branch of Cul- 
tural Resources (in the Division of Yellowstone 
Center for Resources) at the park. 



To produce this report we have depended 
upon the graciousness, patience, experience and 
scholarship of a great numher of individuals and 
institutions. Here we would like to gratefully ac- 
knowledge the work of park officials, other schol- 
ars, native advisors and consultants, and additional 
personnel without whom this compilation would 
not have heen possible. 

To National Park Service regional Ethnog- 
rapher David Ruppcrt we are grateful for support, 
counsel and patience. To Yellowstone National 
Park Superintendent Michael Finley we are thank- 
ful for the hospitality and support of his Mammoth 
staff, with special appreciations to Laura Joss, 
Chief, Branch of Cultural Resources and a patient 
and constant supporter; to Lee H. Whittlesey. Ar- 
chivist and tireless respondent to phone calls and 
queries and for his constant encouragement; to Ann 
M. Johnson, Rocky Mountain Support Office Ar- 
chaeologist, duty-stationed to Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park, for her solid critiques; to Vanessa 
Christopher. Librarian, for her assistance in locat- 
ing archival sources and photographs; to Jim 
Peaco. park Photographer, for video-taping Dr. 
Hultkrantz and processing slide requests. 

Our project consultants and regional inter- 
viewers were indispensable to collecting the raw 
data from which we have written this report. We 
are extremely thankful to Dr. Ake Hultkrantz, who 
with his gracious wife Gerry came to Red Lodge 
for a two-week trip through his old Yellowstone 
Country fieldwork sites. In addition. Dr. Hultkrantz 
granted permission to select from his photographs 
as well as to excerpt from his unpublished manu- 
script on the Sheep Eaters. To Aubrey L. Haines 
we are also indebted for access to his impeccably 
collated historical notes, and for his general readi- 
ness to share a lifetime's worth of Yellowstone 
knowledge, especially his notes on the trail sys- 
tem, and for his prompt written responses. For con- 
ducting interviews and independent research this 
document has relied heavily upon the work of al- 
pine ecologist Jan Nixon, who also wrote our 
appendixed summary on plant data related to the 

park; on the efforts of Dr. Sharon Kahin of Dubois. 
Wyoming, whose interviews with Shoshone and 
Bannock consultants gave our Chapters 3, 4 and 5 
a crucial ethnographic depth; and on the help of 
Jeanne Eder who accompanied our First season's 
field trips and contributed treaty data. 

Although we want this document to reflect 
the combined voices of many Indian spokesper- 
sons and consultants, living and past, we also wish 
to respect the anonymity of our contemporary 
American Indian consultants. For now let us just 
profoundly thank, on the East. DT and SC of the 
Kiowa tribe, and GB, AS and JMC among the 
Crow. For the North we are grateful to TT, CB, TI 
and LA among the Kootenai-Salish. and CCB of 
the Canadian Blackfeet, and, for the West, to GE. 
LV, JS, CN, DSC and JLV. For the South we thank 
MG. ZE, FT, MJG. SW, AC and HW. 

We want to particularly thank John H. Furse 
for a gift to Yellowstone National Park in the name 
of Kay L. Furse. The donation was used for costs 
of American Indian participants' travel to Yellow- 
stone National Park for interviews and meetings. 

There have also been a large group of other 
individuals with special expertise who have as- 
sisted in a great many different ways. So we offer 
our humble and extremely grateful thanks to Walt 
Allen. Bernard Azure. Gerard Baker. Renee 
Beltran. Tim Bernardis. Mike Bies. Chuck Branch. 
Joseph and Elenita Brown, Frances Clymer. Stuart 
W. Conner, Marcy Culpin, Leslie Davis, David 
Dominick. Bob Edgar, Ken Fehyl, Paula Fleming. 
Bill Holm. Richard Holmer. Susan Hovde. Wilfred 
Husted. Nancy Kreckler. Kevin Kooistra-Man- 
ning. Larry Mayer. Tim McCleary, Bonnie 
Newman, Anibal Rodriguez, Tom Smith. Mark D. 
Spence, Ken Wade. Deward E. Walker. Jr.. and 
Joseph Weixelman. We are extremely thankful for 
the editorial expertise, graphic skills and good hu- 
mor of Laurie Miller of Cody. Wyoming. Finally, 
we are indebted to Rosemary Sucec and Sue Con- 
solo Muiphy of the National Park Sen ice and to mas- 
terful editor Sarah Stevenson for finalizing this pub- 



The following overview of the role of Ameri- 
can Indians in the region in and around Yellow- 
stone National Park can only be considered as an 
interim contribution. On a trail already blazed by 
the likes of Ake Hultkrantz, Joel C. Janetski and 
Joseph Weixelman, our compilation of data about 
American Indians within and surrounding the park 
strives to open up a new evaluation of existing lit- 
erature, to probe into undiscovered or under-used 
sources of archived ethnographic or historical data, 
and to invite a fresh survey of contemporary In- 
dian voices and viewpoints regarding the roles that 
various Indian peoples played in the human evo- 
lution of the landscape and region on which now 
sits Yellowstone National Park. 

At the outset we should also state that since 
we are trying to reconstruct and interpret the life- 
patterns of Indian peoples who neighbored on and 
acted within Yellowstone National Park we must 
extend our territorial range to what has often been 
termed variously "the Yellowstone ecosystem," the 
"greater Yellowstone," or "the greater Yellowstone 
ecosystem." Just as one cannot understand the bu- 
reaucratic, military or environmental history of 
Yellowstone National Park proper without an ap- 
preciation of historical issues related to the west- 
ern Plains and the U.S. park system in general, 
even extending to political decisions made in 
Washington, D.C., that effected the park, so we 
have not limited our inquiries or reconstructions 
to the precise boundaries of the park. That the ad- 
joining landscape was considered an inherent part 
of the park ecosystem was recognized early on by 
the fact that Shoshone National Forest was initially 
known as "the Yellowstone Park Timberland Re- 
serve." Hence we are generally adopting the char- 
acterization of the Yellowstone ecosystem offered 

by lawyer-environmentalist Charles F. Wilkinson: 

. . .the most commonly accepted definition 
seems to be an area of about thirteen [now 
18-20] million acres. It includes Yellow- 
stone and Teton National Parks, three wild- 
life refuges, some BLM and private lands, 
part of the Wind River Indian Reservation, 
and, perhaps most importantly, seven na- 
tional forests. The ecosystem, as defined 
in this manner, touches more than two 
dozen jurisdictions. It also encompasses all 
of the plateau, the mountain systems that 
splay out from the park, and the headwa- 
ters of all the streams that flow out in all 
directions [Wilkinson 1993:176]. 

Specific Goals of this Study 

By no means do we pretend to submit a de- 
finitive history of Indians in and around the park, 
for reasons which will be clearly stated below. 
What we have tried to accomplish in this docu- 
ment is to narrate in compelling fashion the re- 
sults of our ethnographic inquiry and our summary 
of published or archival data, as both pertain to: 

1. the archaeological cultures associated with 
Yellowstone National Park and its environs; 

2. the so-called "Sheep Eater" culture who were 
the only recognized "permanent" park inhab- 
itants before and during the historic period; 

3. the historic tribal groups whose territories 
overlapped onto or impinged upon the later 
park boundaries on all four sides. 

To meet these goals we have tried to extend 
currently existing summaries of Yellowstone's In- 
dians by: 



1 . pursuing ethnographers' raw field notes and 
archived documents related to these historic 

2. seeking out representatives of these same 
American Indian nations in an effort to in- 
corporate contemporary Indian perspectives; 

3. presenting these new or freshly 
contextualized data in the form of full-bod- 
ied, descriptive narratives rather than laun- 
dry lists of cultural or ethnographic re- 

Yellowstone National Park 
as Key Symbol 

Discussion on practically any aspect of Yel- 
lowstone National Park can get you into trouble. 
This is because the park has proven to be a light- 
ning rod for a wide range of American opinions, 
beliefs, experiments, attitudes and desires concern- 
ing w hat is arguably humankind's oldest discourse: 
the practical, philosophical and spiritual dimen- 
sions of the relationship between culture and na- 
ture. As our nation's highest-visibility, open-air 
laboratory where that relationship is constantly 
being tested, contested and redefined, what is a 
quiet conversation anywhere else becomes a rag- 
ing controversy in Yellowstone. This is also be- 
cause the natural properties and cultural history 
of the park are so unusual, resonant and symbolic 
that they lend themselves to multiple interpreta- 
tions and incessant scrutiny. What is it about Yel- 
lowstone that makes it seem to focus and drama- 
tize such a concentration of deep mythical or cos- 
mic themes. American environmental values, and 
integrative concepts? What makes the park such a 
compelling — one might say almost mandatory — 
destination of pilgrimage for the American fam- 
ily'.' What is the unique compound of characteris- 
tics which make Yellow stone National Park — like 
the Alamo. Grand Canyon, the Vietnam Memorial 
or Ybsemite — one of our country's key symbols? 

Geographically, the lifeblood of the Yellow- 
stone Plateau is the great river which gathers from 
streams pouring off the Absaroka crest and the Two 
Ocean Plateau to pool into the largest high alti- 

tude lake in North America before it presses on to 
the north. There is also a symbolic importance to 
the centrality of this spot on the Continental Di- 
vide, for the Two Ocean Pass Lake is the knot 
which binds together the continent: one of its out- 
lets. Atlantic Creek, flows into the Yellowstone and 
thence eventually into the Gulf of Mexico and the 
Atlantic Ocean; the other outlet. Pacific Creek, 
eventually replenishes the Columbia and ulti- 
mately enters the Pacific Ocean. 

When it is frozen over, the 136 square miles 
of Yellowstone Lake forms the largest ice sheet in 
the continental United States. As for the Yellow- 
stone River, it extends into the longest undammed 
stream in the lower 48 states, stretching for 671 
miles, draining a 70. 102-square-mile watershed 
and eventually traversing an expanse greater than 
all of New England. In the initial high-altitude 
portion of the Yellowstone River's three main sec- 
tions, it completes over half of its 5,800-foot de- 
scent within its first 100 miles. Here is where one 
can view the great canyons which, in combination 
with the dramatic effusions of its thermal field, 
have made it one of the wonders of the world. 

Geologically, both Indians and Anglos im- 
mediately recognized the wonders of the Yellow- 
stone Plateau as an on-going spectacle of the pow- 
erful forces which first produced and still can re- 
form the earth's topography. Initially, this has less 
to do with the natural beauty of its lakes, peaks or 
valleys than with the ten thousand thermal features 
which are concentrated within the confines of the 
park, whose nearly nine hundred geysers contain 
over 60 percent of those on the planet. It is appro- 
priate in a survey on Indian relations with and at- 
titudes towards this unusual geological region to 
remind ourselves of this awe-inspiring power. We 
say this because Indians have often been charged 
with giving Yellowstone's thermal field a wide 
berth in their travels through the region, with dub- 
bing it "taboo." "evil." a place of demonic forces. 
As observed by historian Robert H. Keller and 
natural resource specialist Michael F. Turek. how- 
ever, these claims about Indian attitudes towards 
Yellowstone would prove to be merely the first 
and most strident examples of "The widespread 
misconception that Indians feared national park 
areas and had not used the land..." (Keller and 

American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Turek 1998:24). And these authors point out how 
similar "myths" became attached to Mt. Rainier, 
the interior Olympic Peninsula, and the 
Southwest's Zion National Park, among other pub- 
lic sites. 

But as has been documented by earlier writ- 
ers and will be underscored in this report, "awe- 
some," "powerful," potentially "dangerous" and 
"sacred" may be more accurate descriptors for In- 
dian attitudes towards the thermal turbulence 
within Yellowstone National Park. Aside from how 
such reactions were filtered through the Indians' 
religious belief systems, however, their feelings 
of amazement and caution are not that different 
from those of non-Indians. Just listen to the senti- 
ments of former Yellowstone Chief Ranger Dan 
R. Sholly on winter's tour just west of Canyon 

Beneath where we were riding the earth's 
molten interior was only half a mile down. 
Yellowstone was born from volcanism and 
is still being shaped by its forces. About 
two million years ago, then one million 
years ago, then again six hundred thousand 
years ago, tremendously destructive vol- 
canic eruptions occurred right where I was 
now freezing. The latest alone supposedly 
spewed out nearly 240 cubic miles of de- 
bris. The 28-by-47-mile caldera, or basin, 
which dominates much of the park's inte- 
rior, was the result of the earth collapsing 
from so much lava... To think that just be- 
low my snowmobile was a bubble of mol- 
ten terror as big as a small moon!" [Sholly 
and Newman 1991:43]. 

At Yellowstone the landscape never sits still. 
In 1959 one of the strongest tremors ever recorded 
in the United States, releasing the combined en- 
ergy of 200 Hiroshima bombs, shook an area of 
some 550,000 square miles around the park. For 
visitors from whatever cultural background, the 
experience of being in Yellowstone National Park 
comes as close as anywhere on earth to offering a 
direct, personal witness to the very process of cre- 
ation itself. 

Ecologically, just as Father Pierre-Jean De 
Smet contended in the mid-19th century that, "The 
Yellowstone country abounds in game; I do not 

believe that there is in all America a region better 
adapted to the chase" (Chittenden and Richardson, 
eds. 1969:243), so Aubrey L. Haines would con- 
cur nearly a century and a half later that Yellow- 
stone National Park contains "a more representa- 
tive sample of the primeval fauna of the American 
West than is now found anywhere else" (Haines 
1996:xix). Whether scientific fact or popular im- 
pression, in the American imagination Yellowstone 
National Park is one place in the country where 
one also seems able to find the full Ark of the 
West's faunal history, supposedly living naturally 
within their wilderness habitat, in situ, "as it was" 
before any humans — Indian or white — took con- 
trol. Moreover, this is the primeval image which 
has consciously been promulgated in picturesque 
landscape paintings, photographs and verbal por- 
trayals of the region and its natural wonders. 

As one might expect of the discourse that 
erupts around any key symbol, however, others 
contest this view of the greater Yellowstone eco- 
system as a natural wilderness overflowing with 
all manner of fauna. Despite the reality that many 
of the animal species one does view grazing 
throughout the park have had their behaviors modi- 
fied and even partially domesticated by a hundred 
years of vacillating game-management practices, 
the older image of Yellowstone as the ultimate 
time-capsule game refuge has died hard. Although 
in other regions of America we are gradually real- 
izing the degree to which human interaction, in- 
tentional and inadvertent, has affected the ecol- 
ogy, transforming such "pristine" locales into cul- 
turally constructed landscapes (Cronon 1995; 
Blackburn and Anderson 1993; Lewis 1973), in the 
past, at least, at Yellowstone the concept has been 
resisted because of the fierce symbolic hold the 
place still claims in American consciousness. Es- 
pecially antagonistic to any notion of Yellowstone 
as some Garden of Eden has been Charles E. Kay, 
who has contended that "Historical records do not 
support the view that the Inter-mountain West once 
teemed with wildlife" (Kay 1995:121). In a series 
of papers, Kay has argued that many animal and 
plant species were actually in slim supply in the 
Yellowstone of pre-Anglo-American days. Fur- 
thermore, he suggests that "the idea that North 
America was a 'wilderness' untouched by the hand 
of man prior to 1492 is a myth created, in part, to 


justify appropriation of aboriginal lands and the 
genocide that befell native peoples"* < Kay 1996:84). 
And historian William Cronon also links the myth 
ol viigin wilderness w ith this reality of Indian evic- 
tions in the West which opened up lands for na- 
tional parks: 

The removal ol Indians to create an 'unin- 
habited wilderness ... reminds us just how 
invented, just how constructed, the Ameri- 
ean wilderness really is. To return to my 
opening argument: there is nothing natu- 
ral about the concept of wilderness. It is 
entirely a creation of the | non-Indian) cul- 
ture that holds it dear, a produet of the very 
history that it seems to deny [Cronon 

But Kay*s opinions have been vigorously 
challenged, point by point, by a number of schol- 
ars such as Ken Cannon, Paul Schullery and Lee 
Whittlesey, who have criticized what they consider 
to be his misreadings of and lack of proper his- 
torical analysis procedures for properly examin- 
ing primary sources related to observations of ani- 
mal life, his reliance upon minuscule sample sizes 
for the animal populations assessed (Schullery and 
Whittlesey I999a:20), and his dependanee upon 
arguable sources for demographic estimates of 
early Native Americans in the region (Schullery 
and Whittlesey 1999b: 16). Cannon takes particu- 
lar issue with using mid to late 19th century ac- 
counts for reports of game numbers earlier on — 
even though more than 90 percent of observers 
"expressed belief that game was abundant" — be- 
cause of the external impact upon animal popula- 
tions that already must have occurred by then 
(Cannon 1992:1-158). In the entire debate over 
the time depth of particular interactions between 
humans and environments across the American 
West. Schullery sees a mixed blessing: 

This discussion is valuable because it has 
compelled land managers and public-land 
users to recognize the important role played 
by humans in the pre-Columbian land- 
scape. But it has also been used rather like 
a weapon in land-management debates. 
What began as an important corrective in 
our understanding of wild landscapes lias 
become a blanket criticism of all wildland 

management. It is now apparently pre- 
sumed that because Indians had many in- 
fluences on many North American places, 
they had all those influences in all those 
places | Schullery 1997:3 14-3 15]. 

Ethnographically, this northwestern corner 
of present-day Wyoming is also especially com- 
plex. For the Yellowstone Plateau is the conver- 
gence point for three out of North America's nine 
"cultural areas." To Clark Wissler (see below), the 
first scholar to subdivide North America into "cul- 
ture areas," the park area initially was viewed as 
reflecting the life-style of classic, horse-riding 
Plains Indian peoples (Wissler 1914:pl. 33). Three 
years later, Wissler refined his continental break- 
down so that in addition to this Plains influence 
on the east, he had pushed the Plateau region, or 
the "Salmon Area," closer to the park region from 
the northwest, and in addition recognized the in- 
fluence of the Great Basin peoples, his so-called 
"Wild Seeds" area, directly abutting the park from 
the southwest (Wissler 1917:8). 

Then, in a 1920 mapping of North American 
culture areas, the renowned anthropologist Alfred 
C. Kroeber budged the Plateau cultural influence 
even closer to the park (Kroeber 1920:167). and 
three years later he placed the entire southwestern 
half of park territory under western, or "Intermoun- 
tain" influence, with only its northeastern corner 
more associated with the Plains lifestyle (Kroeber 
1923 :fig. 41). becoming even more specific in 1939 
with his labeling of this western influence as "Great 
Basin" (Kroeber 1939:map 6. 55). But in Julian 
Steward's classic geographical distribution of 
Shoshonean groups (1938). the park was most 
clearly declared to sit on the general meeting place 
for the three cultural regions, with Plateau, Plains 
and Great Basin influences coming together in this 
upper corner of present-day Wyoming. 

Once one factors in the impact of rapid his- 
torical change in and around the park area, the 
coming of horses, the advent oi~ mining, the terri- 
torial adjustments of early Indian treaties, and of 
course the desire of early conservationists to stake 
out a natural preserve which might remain exempt 
from further development, the region of Yellow- 
stone National Park is clearly revealed as a /one 
of extreme cultural complexity. 

American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Historically, Yellowstone is the oldest and 
largest "natural" preserve in the United States, 
carved out of the high lava plateau on March 1 , 
1872, to protect its 3,448 square miles from poach- 
ers and developers and to launch the spirit of natu- 
ral conservation across the country. As the nation's 
founding park, it came to occupy almost mythic 
status and appeal. As historian Richard White has 

The [non-Indian] United States was a 
young nation lacking both an ancient his- 
tory and a cultural tradition rich in art, ar- 
chitecture or literature. Americans looked 
to scenery as compensation for the cultural 
riches they lacked. . .It became a matter of 
national pride that the new country set apart 
areas such as the Yosemite Valley of Cali- 
fornia or the Yellowstone country of Wyo- 
ming as symbols of national greatness. 
These "earth monuments," proponents 
claimed, rivaled in grandeur the monu- 
ments of Europe's antiquity" [White 

The possibility that regions such as Yellow- 
stone and Yosemite might have already spawned 
ancient native histories, cultural traditions or lit- 
eratures was rarely considered or discussed. And 
if any government personnel familiar with these 
landscapes and their histories harbored misgivings 
about this erasure of prior cultural impact they were 
drowned out by the strident denials and appeals to 
national identity which have continued to keep Yel- 
lowstone in the public eye. 

tions, or responding to the moral or legal claims 
of indigenous peoples, so many hot button issues 
related to the concept of "national parks" seem to 
find their most newsworthy storyline in the Yel- 
lowstone Plateau. To the cultural scholar this con- 
stant swirl of multi-sided positions generated by 
Yellowstone National Park is symptomatic of the 
fact that from its inception the place was more than 
the sum of its parts. As anthropologist Sherry 
Ortner has written, it is only through a nation's 
"public symbol system" that members of a soci- 
ety "discover, rediscover, and transform their own 
culture, generation after generation" (Ortner 

Furthermore, the convergence of unusual 
factors listed above constitute Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park as what Ortner calls a "Key Symbol," 
by which she means, "...we say such a symbol is 
'key' to the system insofar as it extensively and 
systematically formulates relationships — parallels, 
isomorphisms, complementarities, and so forth — 
between a wide range of diverse cultural elements" 
(Ortner 1979:97). This is to say that Yellowstone 
National Park seems to occupy a central or key 
site in American consciousness where the on-go- 
ing relationship between culture and nature is be- 
ing worked out in uniquely American terms, and a 
place where the nation redefines itself in the pro- 
cess. Inevitably this report contributes to the com- 
plexity of this process by restoring to that discourse 
information about a host of American Indian cul- 
tures that interacted in practical and spiritual terms 
with the region. 

This dense layering of multiple but contested 
meanings has made Yellowstone National Park a 
patriotic symbol of the nation's paradisiacal ori- 
gins, a lightning rod for the unending American 
debates between economic growth and environ- 
mental conservation, and a major mirror for self- 
reflection on how the country keeps reconstitut- 
ing its cultural roots and public image. Whether 
the national discussion is about controlling ani- 
mal demography, managing human-predator en- 
counters, monitoring mining pollution, reintroduc- 
ing endangered species, containing buffalo migra- 

Legislative Background 
to this Study 

One overriding objective of this overview is 
to produce a document which offers managers of 
public lands a better understanding of the ethno- 
graphic resources under their control or on adja- 
cent lands affected by their decisions, and to fa- 
cilitate communications with any American Indian 
groups who enjoyed cultural or historical affilia- 
tions with that region. Of the successive pieces of 
legislation which have articulated the responsibili- 
ties between federal land management agencies 


and their role in ethnographic resource manage- 
ment over the last twenty years, certainly the most 
significant is the American Indian Religious Free- 
dom Act (AIRFA), PL 95-341, of 1978. 

This groundbreaking government initiative 
underscored the rights of Indian "access to sites. 
use and possession of sacred objects, and the free- 
dom to worship through ceremonials and tradi- 
tional rites." Whenever management activities 
might threaten to limit religious practices, restrict 
access to important ethnographic resources, alter 
sacred sites, or affect Indian burials, AIRFA stipu- 
lates the need for consultation with Indian tribes. 

One year after passage of AIRFA another 
important law, the Archaeological Resources 
Protection Act (ARPA) PL 96-95, Section 4c. of 
1979, sought to protect religious and cultural sites 
which were at least a half a century old. This leg- 
islation stipulated that before any permit was is- 
sued which might do "harm to, or destruction of, 
any religious or cultural sites, ...the federal land 
manager shall notify any Indian tribe which may 
consider the site as having religious or cultural 
importance." This act was recently reinforced in 
the case of Indiana resident Arthur Gerber who 
was charged with looting archaeological sites that 
contained human burials. Gerber appealed on the 
grounds that ARPA did not apply to his offense. 
However, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals 
held that ARPA was not limited to objects removed 
from federal and Indian lands, but was a catch-all 
provision designed to back up state and local laws 
protecting archaeological resources. 

The 1966 National Historic Preservation Act 
protects sites that are significant to local, state or 
national prehistory, and includes clauses that pro- 
tect history, culture, architecture and technology. 
In 1992. an amendment in Section 101(d) to the 
Act specifically states that sites of "traditional re- 
ligious and cultural importance to Indian tribes or 
Native Hawaiian organizations may be determined 
eligible for inclusion on the National Register." 
Furthermore the National Historic Preservation Act 
requires federal land managers to identify and 
evaluate traditional cultural properties that could 
be eligible lor the National Register of Historic 
Places before undertaking any action that might 
harm such sites. Standards and guidelines on ar- 

chaeology and historic preservation were published 
by the Department of Interior, National Park Ser- 
vice (Federal Register 1983: Vol. 48, No. 190) and 
reinforced, in relationship to traditional cultural 
properties, by the National Register Bulletin 38 
(Parker and King 1990). but as King (1993:60) 
points out neither Bulletin 38 nor the 1992 amend- 
ments to the National Historic Preservation Act 
did anything to change the original act with re- 
gard to traditional cultural properties. 

In Section 106 of the National Historic Pres- 
ervation Act of 1966 it states that before federal 
land managers expend "any Federal funds on [an] 
undertaking or prior to the issuance of any license, 
as the case may be, [they should] take into account 
the effect of the undertaking on any district, site, 
building, structure or object that is included in the 
National Register." Federal land managers need 
to inform the Advisory Council on Historic Pres- 
ervation of any proposed actions that may affect 
eligible properties. As emphasized above, these 
properties include "ethnographic resources," "sa- 
cred sites" and "traditional cultural properties" and 
as such this legislation is commonly employed for 
protecting them (Sebastian 1993). Therefore, sev- 
eral different approaches are used to define the 
eligibility of sites, under the following criteria: 

1 . a site can be eligible for an "important event" 
that transpired there: 

2. a site can be deemed significant because an 
"important person" was associated with the 

3. a site may be representative of a "type" of 
cultural or rare construction or location; 

4. a site may be considered to possess "cultural 
value" if its significance to American Indian 
beliefs or customs "has been 
ethnohistorically documented and if it can 
be clearly defined [ Parker and King 1990: 1 5- 

This list also means that locations or cultural 
features which play a major role in the mythol- 
ogy, cosmology or history of a Native American 
group are potentially eligible to the National Reg- 
ister. This includes sites "where Native American 
religious practitioners have historically gone, and 

American Indians and Ycllowstniu- National Park 

are known or thought to go today, to perform cer- 
emonial activities in accordance with traditional 
cultural rules of practice" (Parker and King 1990: 1 ). 
Traditional cultural significance is meant to im- 
ply any location "where a community has tradi- 
tionally carried out economic, artistic, or other 
cultural practices important in maintaining its his- 
toric identity" (Parker and King 1990:1). 

Another important piece of legislation affect- 
ing Indian resources on public lands was the Na- 
tive American Graves Protection and Repatriation 
Act of 1980 (NAGPRA), PL 101-106. This law 
oversees the correct handling of unmarked Indian 
graves and human skeletal remains and establishes 
a means for tribes to ask for the return of skeletal 
materials, grave goods, sacred objects and articles 
of cultural patrimony from federally funded 
curation facilities. 

Some federal land managers can feel over- 
whelmed with responsibility for traditional cultural 
properties and privately express hope that Con- 
gress will change or remove their obligations to 
protect sacred sites. But it is apparent that the re- 
verse has been the norm, and Congress has ac- 
tually strengthened the laws. In 1996, President 
Clinton followed the same lead with the issu- 
ance of Executive Order 13007. In Section 1 
(a) it states: 

each executive branch agency with statu- 
tory or administrative responsibility for the 
management of Federal lands shall, to the 
extent practicable, permitted by law, and 
not clearly inconsistent with essential 
agency functions, ( 1 ) accommodate access 
to and ceremonial use of Indian sacred sites 
by Indian religious practitioners and (2) 
avoid adversely affecting the integrity of 
such sacred sites [Federal Register 61 
(104):26771-May 29,1996]. 

Given this twenty-year body of laws, it is also 
no longer sufficient for a survey of "cultural re- 
sources" of a particular area to be limited to the 
surface remains of earlier inhabitants which 
archaeologically trained specialists might peruse 
on the ground. Today a truly "cultural" survey has 
to go beyond even the updated definition of an 

"archaeological resource," as clarified and ex- 
panded upon in the uniform regulations of the Ar- 
chaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, to 

any material remnants of past human life 
or activities..., [including] but not... lim- 
ited to: pottery, basketry, bottles, weapons, 
weapon projectiles, tools, structures or 
portions of structures, pit houses, rock 
paintings, rock carvings, intaglios, graves, 
human skeletal [remains], or any portion 
or [piece] of any of the foregoing 
items. . . [provided] such item is at least 100 
years of age [ARPA 1979; Section 69.3(a)]. 

Today "cultural" or "ethnographic" resources 
must have an expanded definition, as suggested 
as early as 1982 in the draft of a Bureau of Indian 
Affairs manual bulletin: 

The term "cultural resources" may be 
broadly defined as the remains of human 
activity, both historic and prehistoric. In- 
cluded within the term are: buildings and 
other structures, ruins, artifacts and other 
objects made by people, works of art, hu- 
man remains, and sites and natural features 
that have been of importance in human 
events [Suagee 1982:16]. 

But Dean B. Suagee, one of the drafters of 
this original definition, even found it excessively 
limiting, and sought to add aspects of what folk- 
lorists call "expressive culture" to the category: 

The term 'cultural resources' might also be 
used to describe the 'intangible elements 
of our cultural heritage' such as language, 
myth, arts, skills, songs and dance. Such 
an expansion of the definition might well 
be appropriate because the application of 
cultural resources management to Indian 
concerns involves the preservation of liv- 
ing cultures" [Suagee 1982:16-17]. 

Due to the unusual multi-tribal responsibili- 
ties of this project, and the need for multiple re- 
search strategies in order to compensate for the 
long interrupted flow of data about Indians and 
the park, we are adopting the more expanded defi- 
nition of "cultural" or "ethnographic" resources. 


Interdisciplinary Research in 
Yellowstone National Park 

The many different kinds of sources of data 
behind our diaehronie investigation into the mul- 
tiple Indian relationships with Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park have required us to adopt an interdis- 
ciplinary perspective. Blending field and arehival 
researeh, our chapters have incorporated data, with 
differential emphases, which derives from work pri- 
marily within four disciplines, ( 1 ) Cultural Anthro- 
pology and Ethnography,- (2) American History. (3) 
North American Archaeology, and (4) Folklore. 

First, our study has been Ethnographic in that 
we have reviewed the published literature and, 
wherever possible, tracked down the unpublished 
field notes produced by scholars who conducted 
fieldwork among the ten major tribes with cultural 
or historical associations to the Yellowstone Val- 
ley ecosystem. 

Second, our study has been Ethnohistoric as 
well, since a great deal of our knowledge of In- 
dian activities and beliefs related to the park 
springs from documents generated by chroniclers 
with a greater interest in the historical rather than 
in the cultural implications of their material. This 
leaves to latter-day ethnohistorians the task of 
combing through this material to weigh whatever 
it may contain regarding Indian life-ways and 

Thirdly, this supposedly "ethnographic" 
study has by necessity trespassed into the 
precontact time-frame normally reserved to Ar- 
chaeoldgy. It must include such data since the full 
role, chronological depth and geographical knowl- 
edge of the park by at least two of the major cul- 
tural groups covered by this report — the Shoshone 
and the Sheep Eaters — have highly presumptive 
linguistic and other affiliations with precontact 
populations who moved in and out of the region. 

Finally, our study has also had lobe Folklor- 
istic, in thai sifting through the wide and usually 
uncontextualized range of native narratives has 
required some basic know ledge of narrative tradi- 
tions, characteristic themes and motifs associated 
with Indian groups who have been linked to the 
Yellowstone region. 

let us brieflj re\ iew the historj of these four 

areas of data within the context of cultural documen- 
tation on Yellowstone National Park and environs. 

Ethnography and 
Yellowstone National Park 

None of the American ethnographers from 
America's so-called "Golden Age of Anthropol- 
ogy.*' roughly covering the 1890-1935 period, cen- 
tered their research w ithin the greater Yellowstone 
Plateau. Nor did any of these fieldworkers seize 
the opportunity to work with the Sheep Eaters be- 
fore or after they were pressured to evacuate the 
new park. During the park's emergent years, when 
efforts intensified to discourage Indians from tres- 
passing over the park's new boundaries, no schol- 
ars staked out the plateau as a center for salvaging 
old travel routes or reconstructing Indian hunting, 
foraging or other cultural practices in the Yellow- 
stone heartland. 

However, a handful of earlier, pioneering 
scholars did collect ethnographic data from tribes 
in the wider neighborhood of the Plains. Plateau 
and Great Basin culture areas. Under government 
sponsorship, John Wesley Powell recorded aspects 
of cultural life from the Great Basin cousins of the 
Numic-speaking Shoshone, James Mooney 
worked with the Kiowa on their transformation 
from a northern to a southern Plains people, and 
James Teit collected folklore and other material 
among various Salishan peoples of the Plateau. But 
the self-consciously "scientific" recording of the 
social worlds of the region had to await the next, 
second generation of scholars who dispersed 
throughout the Plains around the turn of the cen- 
tury. Unlike most of their forbears, this was not a 
group of professionals in other walks of life — 
former military men, natural scientists or survey- 
ors — who had been drawn to documenting Indian 
societies out of a sense of concern for their plight 
or because they admired their lifestyle. 

Schooled by the founder-teachers of the 
emergent discipline of anthropology like Fran/ 
Boas and Livingston Farrand at Columbia Uni- 
versity, and often closely allied with New York"s 
Museum of Natural History, this new cadre of 
fieldworkers were united under the banner of "sal- 
\ age ethnograph) " — the ambitious, urgent project 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

of talking with Indian old timers about the days 
not so long before when their peoples freely ob- 
served their traditions, foraged for wild plants, 
hunted buffalo and raided each other, before such 
data was lost for good. As Margaret Mead and Ruth 
L. Bunzel characterized this generation of schooled 
fieldworkers such as Alfred Kroeber who worked 
among the Shoshone, Robert H. Lowie who 
worked among the Crow, and Clark Wissler who 
worked among the Blackfeet: 

They were professional anthropologists, 
trained in methods of collecting and evalu- 
ating data. They were not interested in In- 
dians qua Indians; their interests were 
much broader. They were concerned with 
varieties of man on earth, and Indians were 
one type of man. They sometimes spoke 
of the world of primitive men as their 
"laboratory." However, they were not quite 
so detached as they pretended to be; each 
one of them would defend the special ex- 
cellence of "his" tribe [Mead and Bunzel 

As with any particular cohort, these scholars 
also shared their blind spots. While visiting the 
newly established reservations to seek old warriors 
who often were happy for the audience, they 
largely ignored women's lives, overlooked ten- 
sions over the impositions of the government's 
reservation regimen, disregarded the younger In- 
dian generation as already unaware of their heri- 
tage, and failed to record the detailed geographi- 
cal knowledge of their native consultants. Indeed, 
they rarely credited the religious formulators and 
tribal historians of the peoples they visited with 
the ability to understand and articulate their own 
theories of tribal philosophy or religion. In these 
"informants," instead, they largely saw suppliers 
of facts which it was their responsibility to fit into 
the theories of the day. Their theoretical slant to- 
wards the pre-contact development of and inter- 
actions between these specific Indian societies was 
known as "historical particularism," as champi- 
oned by the highly influential giant of American 
scientific anthropology, Franz Boas. This view- 
point held that for reconstructing the past of 
peoples without archived accounts and documents, 
comparisons must be drawn from neighboring re- 
gions where historical contact could be substanti- 

ated. But to make such careful comparisons some 
kind of logic, no matter how clumsy, had to be de- 
vised for characterizing such "areas" in the first place. 

When Clark Wissler succeeded Franz Boas 
as curator of New York's Museum of Natural His- 
tory in 1905 he also faced this dilemma: how to 
arrange the museum's exhibits in a way which did 
not follow the pre-Boasian theory that, as described 
in 19th century scholar Lewis Henry Morgan's fa- 
mous phrase, all American Indian cultures has 
passed through an identical series of evolution- 
ary steps "from savagery to civilization." Instead, 
Wissler came up with the notion of the "Culture 
Area," which argued that when specific Indian 
tribes lived near each other in a generally similar 
geographical zone and shared many more features 
with each other that were different from those in 
an adjoining geographical zone they could be said 
to constitute a particular "culture area." 

Two additional concepts also sprang out of 
Wissler's concept of the "Culture Area." The first 
was the proposition that within each area was a 
"center" where the most characteristic people in 
that region had best exhibited and epitomized the 
diagnostic features of that culture area. Although 
none of Wissler's era appreciated it at the time, 
there also appears to have been a localized, high- 
altitude adaptation to the micro-habitat of the Yel- 
lowstone highlands which stood sufficiently apart 
to be singled out on its own and to fit this role in 
so far as this unusual region was concerned — the 
Sheep Eaters. A second offshoot of the culture area 
concept was the "age-area" idea, which proposed 
that this cultural "center" would also be the gen- 
erative center for the diagnostic traits of its cul- 
ture area, and that like a stone dropping into wa- 
ter, they would flow like ripples ever outward. This 
would also suggest that those traits which diffused 
the widest were probably the region's oldest — 
which, for the Plains culture area, for instance, 
would mean such cultural features as a form of 
women's dress, Sun Dancing, or the use of medi- 
cine bundles. 

With all the population losses and tribal con- 
solidations and relocations of the late 19th century, 
testing these sorts of secondary propositions in the 
Plains, Plateau or Great Basin was difficult at best, 
although one of Boas' students named Leslie Spier 
made a noble effort in his comparative study of 


the Plains Indian Sun Dance. But in a small re- 
gion like Yellow stone National Park, whose only 
full-time native inhabitants were being absorbed 
into the Wind River and Ion Mall reservation com- 
munities at this tune, and whose authorities were 
activel) discouraging all other Indians from leav- 
ing their reservations and maintaining the park as 
oil-limits, such a study was never even consid- 
ered. So whatever direct contributions our over- 
\ iew contains about the Yellowstone region from 
this crew of early scholars remains highly periph- 
eral to their main focus, and consists o( fragmen- 
tary asides about the Yellowstone gleaned from 
the margins of their published works and field 
notes. Furthermore, the park was and is something 
of an anomalous cultural world in that, as already 
stated, it lies at this juncture of those three great 
culture area traditions. So not surprisingly our fol- 
lowing chapters will contain glimpses and samples 
of each oi the Great Basin. Plateau and Plains 
world-views and cultural traits. 

Of this group of foundational fieldworkers 
probably Robert H. Lowie (1883-1957) is the most 
relevant to the present study, for he worked among 
Shoshoncans to the south and west of Yellowstone 
National Park, as well as among the Crow to the 
east. A student of both Boas and Kroeber, his ef- 
forts went into assembling data but not into ad- 
ducing over-arching theories. This was particu- 
larl\ apparent with Lowie's long-term investment 
in the culture of the Crow Indians, whose south- 
ern division, the Mountain Crow, enjoyed consid- 
erable interaction with the Yellowstone National 
Park ecosystem. Thus his investigations offer rich 
but uncoordinated data on the tribes who hunted 
or lived along the eastern, southern and western 
portions o\' the park. Lowie's work also exempli- 
fied his era. which saw the possibilities for col- 
lecting linguistic and social data quickly vanish- 
ing before the onslaughts of assimilation and mod- 
em life. For that reason these mostly-male schol- 
ars concentrated on "memory culture" as it could 
be retrieved through interviews with old warriors 
who still retained knowledge o\ the pre-reserva- 
tions da> s of the 19th century. Among other schol- 
ars o\ l.owie's general generation working under 
the same general guidelines and with western tribes 
historical!) associated with Yellowstone National 
Park were Clark Wissler among the Blackfeet, 

Alfred Kroeber among the Arapaho and Verne F. 
Ray in the Plateau. 

Working among the Blackfeet and Flathead. 
the documentation by ethnographers John C. Ew- 
ers and Claude Schaeffer understandably lacked 
many references to Yellowstone National Park, 
reflecting the lessened familiarity of these 
Blackfeet. Salish and Kootenai peoples with the 
region. Aside from contributions by John C. Ew- 
ers to the record of long-distance travels of the 
Blackfeet (1955. 1958). we were fortunate in ob- 
taining from the Kootenai-Salish Culture Commit- 
tee the field notes of Claude Schaeffer who elic- 
ited from Flathead elders a geographically specific 
sense of their old trail system that led them south- 
w aid. Yet the historical emphases of this next gen- 
eration of scholars like Ewers. Schaeffer. and Rob- 
ert F. and Yolanda Murphy working on settlement 
patterns of Northern Shoshones and Bannocks 
(Murphy and Murphy I960) was a welcome turn 
from the earlier synchronic studies. In this regard 
one must also cite the contributions of Swedish 
anthropologist Sven Liljeblad. who between 1940 
and 1983 collected linguistic, religious and histori- 
cal material almost exclusively among the 
Shoshone-Bannock of Idaho (Liljeblad 1972). 

Often trained in sub-specialities of anthro- 
pology such as religion, folklore or linguistics, the 
efforts of some of the same or ensuing generation 
turned closer to the Yellowstone region. They were 
distinguished by being driven less to produce 
"laundry list" salvage ethnographies than by a ten- 
dency to address specific "problems" or "issues." 
An important fieldworker whose work among the 
eastern Shoshone touched on many issues related 
to the park's Indian history, for instance, was 
Demitri Boris Shimkin (1916-1992). A pupil of 
Robert Low ie. Shimkin's dissertation research on 
the Wind River Reservation starting in 1937 led to 
highly detailed publications devoted to the particu- 
lar issues of ethnopsychology. ethnogeography. 
literary forms, and the Sun Dance (Shimkin 1939. 
1947a, 1947b, 1947c, 1953). Going on to partici- 
pate in the ethnographic field schools led by War- 
ren d' Azevcdo in the 1960s within the Great Basin 
native communities. Shimkin continued his for- 
a\ s into Shoshonean ethnography, studying social- 
cultural persistence among the Carson River 
people o\~ Nevada (with Russell M. Reid (1970) 


ViKi |i .in hull. ins .mil Yellowstone National Park 

and Shoshonean linguistics (1980). 

In marked contrast to the ahistorical tenden- 
cies of much Golden Age fieldwork, scholars of 
this later period who studied tribes with historical 
relations to Yellowstone National Park turned to 
cultural expressions of social changes during the 
reservation period. For instance, Joseph G. 
Jorgenson looked at the inter-reservation network 
responsible for the resurgence of the Sun Dance 
within the Shoshonean world, interpreting this re- 
ligious phenomenon as a modern "redemptive" 
movement (Jorgenson 1972). This Sun Dance 
movement continues to grow and change today on 
the Wind River, Fort Hall, Crow Indian and other 
reservations. Providing a tighter ethnographic fo- 
cus on one portion of this Sun Dance network, Fred 
W. Voget was not intimidated by Lowie's volumi- 
nous groundwork on the Crow from retracing how 
their modern-day Sun Dance was borrowed in 1941 
from the Wind River Shoshone, and how it still 
flourishes (Voget 1984). Meanwhile, Deward E. 
Walker turned from "traditional" religious expres- 
sion to study the factionalizing consequences of 
native Christianity among Idaho's Nez Perce 
(Walker 1985), while Omer C. Stewart collated a 
lifetime's worth of data from Yellowstone Plateau- 
associated tribes in his capstone history of the re- 
vitalizing rituals of the pan-Indian Native Ameri- 
can Church (Stewart 1987). But both Walker and 
Stewart would also devote their ethnographic and 
ethnohistorical expertise to other park-linked tribes 
as well, with Stewart providing a useful unscram- 
bling of conflicting assessments of Bannock ter- 
ritoriality (1970), and Walker arguing that with the 
horse the Shoshone-Bannock connection constituted 
a virtual confederation (Walker 1993a, 1993b). 

As for casting a theoretical net over any eth- 
nographic facts about Indians and Yellowstone, 
however, it is interesting that the scholar whose 
work most exclusively targeted the park was nei- 
ther an American nor a trained anthropologist. In 
1948 a young Swedish researcher schooled in his- 
tory of religions named Ake Hultkrantz began his 
field studies with a five-week sojourn among the 
Wind River Shoshone, and would return intermit- 
tently for short stays until 1958. Despite his scat- 
tered fieldwork, Hultkrantz' prodigious output, his 
masterful bibliographic range and his inclinations 
as an ethnohistorian and summarizer of existing 

literature make him the most prolific scholar where 
Yellowstone National Park Indians are concerned 
(Hultkrantz 1956, 1958, 1961a, 1961b, 1968a, 
1968b, 1974). At the same time, some of 
Hultkrantz' theoretical orientations may have in- 
hibited fuller appreciation of the roles of Indians 
in the Yellowstone Basin region (1954, 1979). Un- 
til the still-unpublished study of graduate student 
Joseph Weixelman (1992), for instance, no one 
seriously challenged Hultkrantz' thesis about the 
"taboo" nature of Indian feelings about the park's 
thermal field. Yet Hultkrantz must also be ap- 
plauded for recognizing that Sheep Eater descen- 
dants had not simply vanished, and he salvaged 
many of their traditions through interviews within 
the Sage Creek enclave of traditional Indians on 
the Wind River Reservation (summarized in Hult- 
krantz 1966-67, 1970b, 1981a). 

Ethnohistory and Yellowstone 
National Park 

Without necessarily broadcasting the fact, the 
work of numerous scholars and writers on Yellow- 
stone National Park has inevitably been 
"ethnohistorical." This often misunderstood ap- 
proach simply implies, in so far as scholarly goals 
related to Plains Indians have been concerned, 
nothing more complicated than the "intent to pro- 
duce a cultural and/or historical study of an ethnic 
group as a whole (or a study of some aspect of 
that culture or history) either at a particular point 
in time or through a period of years that may ex- 
tend into centuries" (Wedel and DeMallie 
1980: 110). As to how this ethnohistorical approach 
is actually put into practice, the job of historicizing 
an ethnic group faces its greatest methodological 
challenge when that group is a preindustrial, small- 
scale society which transmits its cultural knowl- 
edge from generation to generation primarily 
through oral traditions rather than by written docu- 
ments and records. 

Thus the "ethnohistorical" approach entails 
a sort of cultural translation. First one must search 
through the archives and libraries of one cultural 
group, which in contexts such as that of Indian- 
white relations usually means the writings and 
records of the "dominant" society, in order to find 



glimpses of the pasts of other cultural groups. This 
also requires that in addition to the customary scru- 
tiny and standards which regular historians apply 
to historical or archival materials in order to as- 
certain their validity, the ethnohistorian must be 
grounded in anthropological principles and the 
relevant ethnographic literature in order to evalu- 
ate the accuracy and social import of earlier ob- 
servations, often made by amateurs, in order to 
interpret them within that other culture's contexts. 
Taking anethnohistorical approach to Indi- 
ans and Yellowstone National Park has called for 
constantly shifting back and forth between the li- 
brary and the field, striving to create more three- 
dimensional portraits of Indian societies "in time" 
by compiling and cross-checking archival and eth- 
nographic data. Today this task has been raised to 
an even higher level of complexity, as scholars 
have come to realize that just because an ethnic 
group originates from a non-literate tradition does 
not mean it lacks its own sense of history or ex- 
pressive modes for transmitting historical knowl- 
edge. To accurately identify and interpret the nu- 
merous non-Western ways of "doing history" en- 
tails the skills of a type of researcher whom 
Raymond Fogelson has dubbed, only half jokingly, 
as a "ethno-ethnohistorian" (Fogelson 1974). By 
this awkward term Fogelson means a scholar 
whose knowledge of the communicative traditions 
of particular non-Western, non-literate societies is 
sufficiently deep to allow them to detect not only 
when and what that society is remembering of its 
collective historical experience, but equally im- 
portant, why it chooses to remember certain things 
in particular ways. Since for any culture, it is the 
choice of what constitutes a historical occurrence 
that illuminates its priorities and its identity, this 
deeper approach lets us better appreciate the na- 
tive point of view. Relating this to Yellowstone 
National Park material, anthropologist Sven 
Liljeblad found the way that Shoshones blended the 
cultural and historical aspects of their past "truly as- 
tounding," and he provided the following example: 

There was, for instance, the old man who 
described quite accurately and in great de- 
tail the complicated manufacture of a 
sinew-backed bow. and who in the nexl 
minute declared that the flint arrowheads 
picked up by people in the vicinity were 

made by nynymbi, the dwarf who dwells 
in the mountains. There were those who 
remembered and could name all camping 
places along the trail — four hundred miles 
in length — to the buffalo-hunting grounds 
in Montana, but who were unable to give 
even an approximate date for the cessation 
of these expeditions, even though it oc- 
curred in his own lifetime [Liljeblad 

But it took awhile for American anthropolo- 
gists to interweave any of these historical perspec- 
tives, from either Anglo or Indian points-of-view, 
into their tribal profiles. As William Fenton has 
written regarding most of the early 20th century 
ethnographers working on ethnic groups associ- 
ated with Yellowstone National Park. "The men 
on [Clark] Wissler's team proceeded as if histori- 
cal sources were not available to them, and treated 
Plains culture in flat perspective" (Fenton 
1952:329). Although Robert Lowie, one of 
"Wissler's team" who would produce over 2.000 
printed pages on one of Yellowstone's major user 
tribes — the Crow — himself confessed that early fur 
trappers and Indian traders caught data he had 
missed, in his own work Lowie actually ignored 
all but the most easily accessible archival docu- 
ments and primary sources which mentioned the 
tribe. Lending a tremendous boost to 
ethnohistorical studies of Indian groups connected 
to Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere how- 
ever, was the passage by the U.S. Congress, in 1946. 
of the Indian Claims Commission Act. 

The aim of this legislation was to provide a 
standardized procedure for processing the accu- 
mulating grievances of Indian groups over past 
inequities, such as the inadequate territorial sur- 
veys and unfair cost assessments which were part 
of the treaty-making process. By 1951 about 850 
claims had been filed with the Commission, and 
were either dismissed, decided in favor of tribes, 
or proceeded to trial, and the Act was extended to 
handle a flood of new claims. Each of these cases. 
however, called for fresh research, for the careful 
preparation of expert testimony, and for the sub- 
mission of comprehensive formal reports. Because 
they concerned such subjects as "how rights to 
property and power were determined within a 
group and the question of how Indians originally 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

used the land," a host of anthropologists, histori- 
ans and other scholars were hired to write tribal 
summaries with information on political structure, 
kinship and property inheritance rights, range of 
food-gathering activities and attempted to assess 
and reconcile the widest range of primary sources 
(Horr 1874: 10). Now descriptions rendered by the 
Lewis and Clark expedition, for instance, which 
encountered the Northern Shoshone in 1805 and 
described their subsistence practices, dress style 
and territorial and political organization, could add 
to fuller reconstruction of aboriginal life (Biddle 
1962:221-263). The Claims Commission reports 
dealing with park-related groups included the 
Crow (Plummer 1974), the Shoshone (Malouf and 
Hultkrantz 1974) and the Nez Perce (Chalfant and 
Ray 1974). 

Soon academia formally recognized this 
wave of government-funded research by using the 
term Ethnohistory more freely and, in 1952, launch- 
ing a major journal by that name. According to 
folklorist Richard Dorson, "The function of 
ethnohistory so conceived is to provide a docu- 
mentary history of the concealed and official inar- 
ticulate ethnic groups in American history" 
(Dorson 1961c: 17), and Dorson broadened its sub- 
ject matter to include traditions which may have 
questionable basis in historical fact but which ex- 
posed the attitudes of disenfranchised peoples. For 
historian Wilcomb Washburn a less political defi- 
nition was preferred, in which the task of 
ethnohistory was, "original research in the docu- 
mentary history of the culture and movements of 
primitive peoples, and related problems of broader 
scope," and Washburn explained that "It may be 
that the historian is too conscious of historical 
change, the ethnologist too little. It may also be 
true that the historian is too little aware of the so- 
cial organization of the peoples he studies... Both 
could profit from greater factual knowledge of the 
past, and it is in this area that the ethnohistorian, 
from whatever discipline he may come, is expand- 
ing our horizons" (Washburn 1961 :31, 40-41). Fi- 
nally, as we discovered when contextualizing the 
work of Hultkrantz and others on Yellowstone 
National Park-connected tribes, anthropologist 
Nancy O. Lurie warns us that "even yesterday's 
ethnography sometimes becomes today's histori- 
cal document requiring special assessments and 

tests of validity" (Lurie 1961:89). 

But it took awhile for Yellowstone National 
Park scholars to take Indians society seriously and 
to try the ethnohistorical mode. Virtually ignored 
by Chittenden (1895), neither were Beal (1949) nor 
Haines (1996) equipped or much interested in teas- 
ing out those socio-cultural realities that lurked 
behind the Indian observations of Lewis and Clark, 
Osborne Russell or the records left by military 
surveyors. After dispensing with Indians in the 
obligatory early chapters of their books they 
quickly turned to ecological and administrative 
developments in park history, with a digression 
for the seemingly aberrant and sensational Nez 
Perce intrusion of 1877. Not until the work of Ake 
Hultkrantz, beginning in the 1950s (1957, 1961b), 
was there a serious attempt to blend social, his- 
torical and religious data on the park's Indians, 
and then he only featured the Shoshoneans and 
privileged their attitudes towards the geyser field. 
Aside from the noble efforts of Hultkrantz and the 
amateur historian David Dominick (1964) to re- 
construct Sheep Eater culture-history, it is surpris- 
ing that no scholars have turned over the park 
material until the recent spadework by University 
of California historian Mark Spence, for whom 
Yellowstone is one of three object lessons in a dis- 
sertation (1996a) about national parks (Yosemite, 
Glacier and Yellowstone) and American Indians. 

Archaeology and Yellowstone 
National Park 

The most immediate distinction of archaeo- 
logical research in Yellowstone National Park is 
the unusual time-depth of archaeological aware- 
ness here, which is attributable to the antiquarian 
interests of the park's second superintendent of Yel- 
lowstone, Philetus Norris. As early as 1 875, Norris 
( 1 880a) was collecting Indian artifacts and describ- 
ing archaeological sites in the region along the 
Yellowstone River in Montana between Fort Ellis 
and the park, and throughout his administration 
Norris continued to catalog the area's old Indian 
sites and record its artifacts (Norris 1877, 1879, 
1880b, 1881a, 1881b). 

During the latter quarter of the 1 9th century 
Norris's appreciation for archaeology was shared 



by members of early scientific expeditions in the 
West. Captain William A. Jones, for example, ex- 
ploring for the United States Army Corps of Engi- 
neers, visited Yellowstone National Park in the 
summer of 1873. In his travels across Wyoming, 
Jones (1875) also collected Indian artifacts and 
reported the significance of Indian remains. It was 
Jones who reported the favored use of the old stone 
scraping tools or "teshoas" among the Shoshone 
women for processing hides and the significance 
of Yellowstone National Park obsidian in the 
manufacture of artifacts. 

Exploring the headwaters of the Jefferson 
River in Montana within a few miles of Yellow- 
stone National Park, J. W. Brower, a Minnesota 
surveyor who sought his fame through searching 
for the sources of rivers, found an archaeological 
site where he collected obsidian knives and spear 
points. In his journal, he pondered the makers of 
these ancient tools and contemplated that one day 
we would find evidence for evolving humans, per- 
haps the oldest in the World, on the North Ameri- 
can continent: 

The endeavors of ethnologic 
students. . .utterly fail to determine any cor- 
rect identification of the original stocks 
whence the Indian nations of America 
came, and the best evidence comes from 
the Indians themselves — "Spontaneous 
Man, who sprang from the bosom of the 

The land of America has existed for a much 
greater time than 500,000 centuries, origi- 
nally producing plant and animal 
life... Who can truthfully assert that all 
nations of men sprang from one original 
parentage, or that the Indians of America 
did not proceed from the soil of the West- 
ern Hemisphere? If America has the old- 
est land, why not the oldest race of men 
[Brower 1897:131]? 

Although we have yet to find any evidence 
for human evolution in the Western Hemisphere 
prior to modern Homo sapiens. Blower's reflec- 
tions remind us how strongly these early scien- 
tists were influenced by the writings and theories 
of Charles Darwin, E. B. Tylor and L. H. Morgan. 
While the treatises of Darwin were directed to- 

ward biological evolution, Tylor and Morgan fo- 
cused on culture change in a paradigm known as 
"unilineal evolution," the theoretical scheme in 
which all human cultures were thought to progress 
through the same stages of Savagery to Barbar- 
ism to Civilization, with common features of ma- 
terial culture such as tools and housetypes associ- 
ated with each stage. In his orders to the construc- 
tion crews who were building Yellowstone's first 
roadways Norris alludes to his awareness of this 
theory and its categorical distinctions between 
"civilized" and earlier peoples: 

As all civilized nations are now actively 
pushing explorations and researches for 
evidences of prehistoric peoples, careful 
scrutiny is required of all material handled 
in excavations and all arrow, spear, or lance 
heads, stone axes, and knives, or other 
weapons, utensils or ornaments: in short, 
all such objects of interest are to be regu- 
larly retained and turned over daily to the 
officer in charge of each party for trans- 
mittal to the National Museum in Wash- 
ington [Norris 1881b:7J. 

This official alert to his staff brought Norris 
numerous artifacts which he carefully packed and 
shipped to the Smithsonian Institution. They in- 
cluded hundreds of projectile points and other 
stone cutting and scraping tools, partial and com- 
plete steatite pots, an atlatl weight, and a stone 
plummet. In the fifth annual report for his tenure 
as superintendent, Norris (1881b) described some 
of these artifacts together with pen and ink illus- 

In a visit to the Smithsonian Institution in 
August 1996, Loendorf found the artifacts sent by 
Norris as well as many more. Using the informa- 
tion on the artifact donor cards it is possible to 
gain some information regarding the origin of the 
artifacts. For example, Arnold Hague found a ste- 
atite pot and other chipped stone artifacts while 
he was doing geological research in the mountains 
along the eastern border of the park and delivered 
them to the Smithsonian for safe-keeping. When 
W. Hallett Philips studied park administration at 
Yellowstone in 1885 some of his time must have 
gone into hunting for Indian artifacts because sev- 
eral dozen stone tools at the Smithsonian list him 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

as donor. In 1908 S.V. Proudfit, an assistant com- 
missioner for the U.S. Land Department who was 
in Yellowstone surveying boundaries, added more 
than a hundred Yellowstone National Park artifacts 
to the Smithsonian collections, many from mate- 
rials gathered by Edward Fish, an assistant super- 
intendent in the park. 

Throughout this early antiquarian period. 
Obsidian Cliff was the best known site in the park, 
in part because the first road through the park 
passed underneath the cliff. But curiously enough, 
most of the artifacts donated to the Smithsonian 
came from other site locations in the park which 
probably reflects the prevailing interest in Obsid- 
ian Cliff as a geological phenomena rather than 
an archaeological site. 

Over the first half of the 20th century arti- 
fact collecting seems to have remained a sidelight 
for Yellowstone National Park employees, as 
Merrill Beal writes: 

Experienced rangers who have reported 
these finds [Indian artifacts] to the author 
include David deL Condon, Lee L. 
Coleman, John W. Jay, John Bauman, 
Rudolf L. Grimm, Wayne Replogle, 
Lowell G. Biddulph, George Marler, and 
William Sanborn [Beal 1949:87]. 

Their artifacts were usually donated to the 
Mammoth Visitor Center museum for curation, and 
at least two of these individuals wrote about ar- 
chaeological sites in the park. David Condon 
(1949) described an Indian burial which turned up 
during construction of a pipeline near Fishing 
Bridge while Wayne Replogle (1956) produced an 
important monograph on the Bannock Trail Sys- 
tem through Yellowstone National Park. 

Although there were occasional visits to the 
park by trained archaeologists who reported their 
discoveries on site forms and produced one pub- 
lished account (Shippee 1971), it was Carling 
Malouf of the University of Montana who directed 
the first funded research in 1958 (Malouf 1965). 
Archaeologists working with Malouf located and 
evaluated well-known sites like the Lava Creek 
wickiups and locations subject to high visitor use 
such as the Fishing Bridge area (Hoffman 1958). 
At Malouf 's request Dee Taylor of the University 
of Montana took over the direction of the survey 
in 1959; two years later his field supervisor, Jacob 

Hoffman, compiled their findings for a master of 
arts thesis. More than ninety years after the park 
was founded, their two-year survey was summa- 
rized by Taylor et al. (1964) in what would be- 
come the first professional study on the prehis- 
tory of Yellowstone National Park. 

Taylor followed a culture-historical paradigm 
which described and placed the recovered artifacts 
within a temporal and spatial framework. Even 
though many locations were not visited by his 
crews, 78 of the 195 sites reported through the re- 
search had previously been identified by Replogle 
during his reconstruction of the Bannock Trail 
System. An additional 53 sites were partially re- 
corded by park naturalists with surface collections 
placed in the Mammoth Visitor Center museum 
(Taylor et al. 1964). All in all, 180 of the sites 
(92%) were surface scatters of chipped stone de- 
tritus with no other defining characteristics, 7 (4%) 
exhibited tipi rings on their surface, 4 (2%) were 
areas where chipped stone had been quarried, 2 
( 1 %) were wickiup sites, while the remainder con- 
sisted of a single game drive site and a site with 
ceramics and chipped stone debris on the surface. 
Their age ranged from the late Paleo-Indian Pe- 
riod, dating to some 8000 to 9000 years before the 
present, to the still-standing wickiup structures 
which were almost certainly constructed during 
the Historic Period. Yet how easily such sites could 
be overlooked was recently evoked by the veteran 
Yellowstone chronicler, Paul Schullery: 

A few years ago I was scanning the hills 
above a meadow near Mammoth Hot 
Springs. I was looking for grizzly bears, 
but along a low slope on one side of a small 
drainage that emptied out into the meadow, 
two parallel rows of boulders caught my 
eye. Ranging in size from one to several 
feet across, the boulders ran downhill in 
lines so straight and perfect that there could 
be no doubt they were put there by humans. 
They had clearly been there a very long 
time, but nobody, not even the archeolo- 
gists and historians I later asked, had no- 
ticed them. I took an archeologist to see 
them, just to confirm my suspicion, but the 
purpose of the boulder lines was pretty 
obvious to me. Crouching behind them, a 
hunter would have been well concealed 
from elk, deer, or bison as they descended 



through the narrow draw and out onto the 
meadow on their way to the nearest stand- 
ing water. 

I started spending time in that meadow in 
1972, and I glassed those slopes countless 
times looking for bears, but it took me eigh- 
teen years to notice those rocks [Schullery 

The early 1960s opened a new era in the ar- 
chaeology of Yellowstone National Park, when the 
Chief Naturalist assigned Aubrey L. Haines the 
task of preparing base maps on archaeology and 
history which were required for the park's master 
plan. Frustrated because the University of Mon- 
tana study was not yet available, and in the ab- 
sence of any other site records, Haines launched 
his own research program. In one phase he planned 
to visit artifact collectors, and take notes, photo- 
graphs, and measurements for the important arti- 
facts in their collections; in a second he envisioned 
survey in areas of the park which had been over- 
looked by the University of Montana crews. 

To begin with, Haines (1963, 1965) recorded 
artifacts that had been found by hunters, guides 
and seasonal employees in some extremely remote 
and high-altitude regions outside the northern 
boundary of the park. A significant number of these 
artifacts were well-known "types" which archae- 
ologists associated with Paleo-Indian societies 
dating back to 7000 to 9000 years ago when the 
mountains still retained remnant of glaciers. Other 
stone tools were dated to the altithermal, a hot, 
dry climatic period that followed the last major 
glaciers. Aside from the fact that archaeologists 
were surprised there were any artifacts at all in the 
mountains above timberline, two hypotheses that 
are still debated today were derived from these 
findings. One was the idea that the high mountain 
peaks were free of glaciers and therefore could 
serve as routes for travel for Paleo-Indians; the 
other was the possibility that the hot and dry cli- 
mate of post-glacial times served to create a "sanc- 
tuary or a retreat" in the cooler, moist mountain 

While these discoveries were highly signifi- 
cant, it was the other phase of Haines' research, 
the archaeological survey, that would remain most 
meaningful in terms of the Yellowstone National 

Park's Indian history. For Haines initiated the first 
research into the park's past which was premised 
on a settlement-and-subsistence paradigm. As he 
envisioned it, this two-fold survey would explore 
areas not covered by the University of Montana 

. . .the Upper Lamar River drainage (moun- 
tainous, difficult country of great signifi- 
cance, I believe, as a hunting area. . . ). and 
the Yankee Jim Canyon to Gardiner basin, 
which provided these peoples, and possi- 
bly earlier ones, with a wintering-ground 
of great importance. The two are interlock- 
ing parts of the puzzle [Haines memoran- 
dum 1962:1, Haines file. Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park Archives, Mammoth). 

His proposed research hoped to locate any 
sites that represented the prehistoric seasonal use 
of the park, using a theoretical stance known in 
America as "settlement archaeology." Speculat- 
ing that the mountain tops served as summer habi- 
tat while the lower river courses were favored for 
winter use, Haines expected to find temporary 
campsites, projectile points and other hunting tools 
in the Upper Lamar drainage with more perma- 
nent habitation sites featuring fire remains associ- 
ated with winter encampments likely in the Yan- 
kee Jim Canyon to Gardiner area. 

Lacking support from the National Park Ser- 
vice, Haines enlisted members of the Billings Ar- 
chaeological Society for a field crew and set out 
to undertake the survey of Miller Creek area in 
the Upper Lamar drainage. Although his expedi- 
tion did not reach all of its proposed locations, they 
were successful in finding thirty-four sites (Haines 
1961). When Haines and his assistants not only 
made surface collections but undertook a test ex- 
cavation at a site near the mouth of Miller Creek, 
the work drew the attention of Paul Beaubian. the 
Region Two archaeologist for the National Park 
Service. According to the Antiquities Act of 1 906. 
the legality of collecting surface artifacts on fed- 
eral lands was debatable. In practice, however, be- 
cause the National Park Service issued Antiqui- 
ties Permits, they were usually not required for 
government employees who collected surface ar- 
tifacts in national parks. In fact, as outlined in the 
following memorandum from Superintendent 
Lemuel Garrison to the maintenance employees. 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

surface collecting was actually encouraged in Yel- 
lowstone National Park: 

I wish all employees whose daily work is 
out-of-doors to aid in the recovery of In- 
dian artifacts for future museum use. Em- 
ployees finding arrow points, stone knives, 
scrapers, axes or mauls, or fragments of 
stone or pottery vessels, or other objects 
of Indian manufacture, within the Park, 
should send such items to the Museum 
Curator at Mammoth [Garrison, Feb. 16, 
1962; Haines file Yellowstone National 
Park Archives, Mammoth]. 

But excavation was a different matter. All 
archaeologists were required to obtain Antiquities 
Permits and file a research plan before undertak- 
ing excavations on federal lands. Even though 
Haines had employed extremely careful techniques 
and produced a report on his findings, when he 
got wind of this work, Beaubien wrote: 

Those representing the Billings Archeo- 
logical Society have no academic training 
which would qualify them to conduct ar- 
cheological excavations. I think any dig- 
ging by them should be stopped to avoid 
criticism of the Service [Beaubien to 
Haines March 8, 1962; Haines file, Yel- 
lowstone National Park Archives, Mam- 

Beaubien went on to suggest that archaeolo- 
gists at the University of Montana might be avail- 
able to assist in excavation projects. Unfortunately 
the distance between the University of Montana 
and Yellowstone National Park precluded week- 
end and other short-term expeditions, and the ab- 
sence of trained archaeologists at other locations 
in Montana made it difficult to get any professional 
guidance. Haines continued to undertake archaeo- 
logical projects outside the park, and in Novem- 
ber 1962 he reported on his findings from the im- 
portant Rigler Bluffs site located along the Yel- 
lowstone River near the town of Corwin Springs, 
Montana (Haines 1966). 

This enterprising research had an impact on 
future archaeology in Yellowstone National Park. 
As noted above, Haines' work was the first appli- 
cation of the "settlement pattern" approach in the 
area. It also caused the archaeological community 
to look seriously at prehistoric sites in high eleva- 

tions. From now on it was impossible for regional 
archaeologists to ignore the abundance and sig- 
nificance of the Indian remains in Yellowstone 
National Park and the surrounding mountains. 
Following Haines' work, two University of Mon- 
tana graduate students shortly completed archaeo- 
logical projects relevant to the park. On the upper 
Yellowstone River George Arthur (1966) con- 
ducted an archaeological survey, and although his 
research was not directly within the park, he re- 
corded significant sites which Haines had ear- 
marked as significant just to the south in the vi- 
cinity of Gardiner, Montana. At the same time 
Lewis Napton (1966) completed a complementary 
survey that included the upper reaches of the Gall- 
atin River. In the process, Napton recorded and 
test excavated a wickiup site, 24YE301, on the 
western border of Yellowstone National Park. Both 
of the survey projects produced similar site types, 
within the same time range, as those reported from 
inside the park, and thereby verified a 9,000- to 
1 0,000-year record of human use in the mountain- 
ous region of southern Montana. 

Meanwhile a graduate student at the Univer- 
sity of Calgary, Alberta, Larry Lahren, took a seri- 
ous look at the Myers-Hindman well-stratified site 
near Livingston, Montana. His excavations turned 
up evidence for more than 9000 years of intermit- 
tent use, producing a chronological profile against 
which to compare other sites on the upper Yellow- 
stone (Lahren 1971). Yet it was in the Shoshone 
River canyon, a few miles east of Yellowstone 
National Park, that Wilfred Husted of the 
Smithsonian Institution River Basin Surveys was 
excavating the most significant archaeological site 
to be found in the area. Named Mummy Cave for 
the presence of a mummified human burial in an 
upper cultural layer, the site contained extremely 
good stratigraphy with 36 separate cultural levels 
ranging in age from 9500 years ago until the His- 
toric Period (Wedel, Husted and Moss 1968; 
Husted and Edgar 1978; McCracken et al. 1978). 
In addition to the large numbers of projectile points 
that provided chronological markers, the cave de- 
posits had ample amounts of charcoal for radio- 
carbon dates. For the first time, the surface arti- 
facts collected by Aubrey Haines and many oth- 
ers in the Yellowstone National Park region could 
be assigned ages with confidence. 



A major role in the new archaeological in- 
terest in high altitude Indian locations was played 
by George Frison of the University of Wyoming. 
Among his Yellowstone-linked discoveries was an 
open-air camp about twenty-five miles east of the 
park known as the Dead Indian Creek site. Found 
in the Sunlight Basin, an intermontane region about 
6,500 feet in elevation that is surrounded by higher 
mountains of the Absaroka Range, the site con- 
tained a half-dozen mule deer skulls with the ant- 
lers still attached that were believed to be arranged 
in a ceremonial pattern (Frison 1978:270-271, 
349-350). Other bones from large mammals rep- 
resent bighorn sheep and elk while grinding slabs 
and manos for processing plants were also recov- 
ered. Although it was not recognized at first, Frison 
( 1 99 1 : 1 00) now believes that a feature on the site 
likely represents a pit house, similar to others 
which have been turned up over past decades in 
nearby Wyoming basins. The Dead Indian Creek 
site was radiocarbon dated between 4200 and 4500 
years before the present. The McKean-type pro- 
jectile points which were found at the site are con- 
sistent with this date. Another fascinating charac- 
teristic about this location site is the estimation 
that, based on tooth eruption patterns in the man- 
dibles, most of these deer were hunted between 
October and March. This strongly suggests that 
even though it is to be found in the mountains at a 
high elevation, the site's occupants lived there 
during the winter. Considering the evidence, the 
remains at the Dead Indian Creek site tell a re- 
markable story of a group of McKean-period hunt- 
ers who lived and nourished in these mountains 
more than four thousand years ago on mule deer, 
elk and bighorn sheep. Furthermore they appear 
to have processed collected seeds, possibly mak- 
ing flour to thicken soup or to bake a mealy, un- 
leavened bread, and they survived through the 
winter at an elevation where temperatures can drop 
to life threatening lows. 

Whether the initial discoveries of Aubrey 
L. Haines in the early 1960s directly prompted oth- 
ers to begin looking for sites in the region is de- 
batable, because during this time archaeology \\ as 
enjoying popularity as a profession and more 
trained archaeologists were on the lookout for sites. 
Nonetheless it must not be forgotten thai n was 
Haines who first reported the large number of sig- 

nificant archaeological sites in the high mountains 
surrounding Yellowstone National Park. Curiously 
the actual sites on which he reported have not been 
re-visited or studied by subsequent scholars. 

Throughout this period, serious non-aca- 
demic archaeologists also conducted research in 
Yellowstone National Park and the adjacent region. 
Instead of making surface collections and test ex- 
cavations, their projects were directed toward tak- 
ing surface survey notes, making sketch maps and 
photographing sites. Stuart Conner and Kenneth 
Feyhl of Billings were leaders in these endeavors, 
recording a number of sites along the Bannock 
Trail which included a significant location that fea- 
tured a rectangular outline of stones thought to 
weigh down the hem of a wall-tent rather than a 
circular tipi. Furthermore, they speculated that this 
tent may have been in use at the time the Bannock 
were undertaking their final, escape journey 
through the park in 1878. 

In addition, Conner began photographic re- 
cording of the year-by-year deterioration at the 
park's wickiup sites. He also documented the per- 
sonal artifact collection of Vern Waples, a game 
warden who collected hundreds of projectile points 
together with their precise locations in the 
Beartooth Mountains to the northeast of the park. 
And together with Waples, Haines. Feyhl. and 
Conner also collaborated in their personally funded 
effort to identify more high mountain sites. The 
legacy left by Conner and his cohorts of duplicate 
sets of photographs, site reports and memoranda 
culminated one of the most important archaeologi- 
cal data-salvage programs for the Yellowstone 
National Park region (Stuart N. Conner, personal 
files and records). 

The National Historic Preservation Act of 
1966 dramatically changed the face of archaeol- 
ogy in the United States. After the 1966 Act. fed- 
eral land managers were now required to locate 
and evaluate archaeological and historical sites that 
might be eligible for inclusion on a National Reg- 
ister of Historic Places. In order to perform these 
evaluations, it was necessary to first search the 
project areas for these "cultural resources." and 
thus funding became available to perform the re- 
cording and evaluation of sites. As Yellowstone 
National Park came into compliance with the Act. 
the Midwest Archeological Center (an archaeologi- 


American Indians ami Yellowstone National Park 

cal support unit for national parks located in the 
western states) carried out the mandated archaeo- 
logical research. Some of the projects were com- 
pleted by Midwest Center staff archaeologists 
while others were undertaken through contractual 
agreements (Lahren 1973; Reeve et al. 1980). Most 
notable among the latter were projects under the 
direction of Gary Wright, State University of New 
York, Albany (SUNY-Albany). Wright also com- 
pleted research in Grand Teton National Park, con- 
centrating on settlement and subsistence problems. 
A significant component of the research, culmi- 
nating in Stuart Reeve's doctoral dissertation at 
SUNY-Albany, included studies of modern plants, 
native uses of plants and pollen studies to recon- 
struct past vegetation communities (Reeve 1986). 

After research in Grand Teton, Gary Wright, 
Susan Bender and Stuart Reeve (1980) presented 
their thoughts on prehistoric adaptation to the 
mountain environment. Briefly, Wright and his 
colleagues suggested that areas like the shores of 
Jackson Lake served as base camps from which 
individuals or small groups set on expeditions to 
high elevations to gather plants, hunt animals and 
then return to the base camp. They recognized the 
significance of collecting and processing camas, 
an important root crop in the Yellowstone National 
Park region which ripens upslope as the snow melts 
on the mountainside. They also appreciated the 
significance of hunting bighorn sheep, an essen- 
tial big game animal for natives in the region, who 
also migrate to snow free areas, up and down the 
mountains, through their annual cycle. Further- 
more, they contrasted this model with prehistoric 
southwest Asia where grasses were collected and 
wild sheep were hunted but eventually domesti- 
cated. They argued that the difference between 
southwest Asia and Yellowstone National Park is 
that in the latter, the hunters and gatherers lived in 
base camps within a short distance of their prey, 
whether it was camas or sheep. As a result they 
never experienced the need to "bring" the species 
home for domestication. In sum, the model has 
distinct implications for the understanding of do- 
mestication, an essential underpinning of seden- 
tary villages. 

In 1977, Gary Wright and his colleagues 
completed research at the Sheep Eater Bridge site 
(Reeve, Marceau and Wright 1980), a large camp- 

site on the Gardner River in Yellowstone National 
Park. Obsidian hydration dates for projectile points 
indicated the site had repeated use from about 7000 
years to 400 years before the present. The prox- 
imity of the site to resources for hunting, fishing 
and plant collection suggested it may have been a 
base camp from which the expeditions went out 
to obtain these abundant resources. 

In later research in Yellowstone National 
Park under the direction of Gary Wright, Ann 
Samuelson ( 198 1 ) made extensive surface collec- 
tions and completed test excavations at sites in the 
vicinity of West Thumb. Using the research for a 
master's thesis at SUNY-Albany, Samuelson con- 
cluded that the largest sites represented cultures 
from late Paleo-Indian times through the Historic 
period and the primary activities, based on the 
stone tool assemblages, were hunting and fishing. 
Studying the flaking debris Samuelson learned that 
stone tools were re-shaped and sharpened more 
often than they were manufactured at the sites. A 
large number of flake tools had notches along one 
margin, and Samuelson suggests they may have 
been used in manufacturing fishing equipment. 
Furthermore she believes, based on circumstan- 
tial evidence, that the sites in the West Thumb area 
were occupied through the winter with the hot 
springs offering warmth and open areas for graz- 
ing animals. According to her model the spawn- 
ing runs of cutthroat trout in the spring would have 
also served as an attraction to the area. 

In the decade from 1985 to 1995 archaeolo- 
gists from the Rocky Mountain Regional Office 
and the Midwest Archaeological Center continued 
to complete archaeological studies in Yellowstone 
National Park. Most of the projects were aimed 
toward finding and evaluating archaeological sites 
associated with proposed construction projects, but 
after the 1988 forest fires, important sites were re- 
visited to assess the damage from the fires (Johnson 
and Lippincott 1989). 

The survey and evaluation of the Obsidian 
Cliff site has been a long-term goal in Yellowstone 
National Park, and Leslie Davis has been involved 
with the study of obsidian for its potential in dat- 
ing as well as source analysis for over thirty-five 
years (Davis et al. 1995). In recent years, Kenneth 
Cannon has worked with others to try to identify 
the multiple sources of obsidian in the Yellowstone 



National Park region. Cannon has also completed 
some blood residue studies, designed to identify 
the species of animal blood associated with the 
tool (Cannon 1995). . 

A few projects have been pursued at sites that 
are not within construction zones. Lamar Cave, 
along the Lamar River in the northern part of the 
park, has been excavated to construct the former 
animals that lived in the area. Although the site 
does not contain evidence of human use, thousands 
of bones from fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and 
mammals were recovered in stratified deposits 
dating through the last 1600 years (Hadly 1990). 
The findings of archaeologists have also been used 
to assess the prehistoric range of elk (Kay 1990) 
and wolves and related prey species (Cannon 1992) 
in Yellowstone National Park. 

Of course, archaeological research has also 
been undertaken at historic sites in the park. Sites 
exposed in the 1988 fires were investigated to re- 
veal the remains of the former military adminis- 
tration, park concessionaires, Civilian Conserva- 
tion Corps projects, road construction crews and 
tourist camps. During the recent changes in the 
administrative structure of the National Park Ser- 
vice, the duty station of an NPS Intermountain 
Field office archaeologist (Ann M. Johnson) was 
changed to Yellowstone National Park; she thus 
became the park's first archaeologist on the staff. 
Johnson continues to do archaeological projects 
motivated by construction, but for the first time 
the administrative archaeologist is now within the 
park itself. Johnson can employ archaeologists 
under her direction or administer crews through 
contractual agreements. 

The history of archaeology in Yellowstone 
National Park is nearly as old as the park itself. 
Throughout this period, however, the pursuit of 
archaeological research has not been undertaken 
with the same vigor as other studies such as those 
associated with animals, plants or geology. As 
funding has become available in the past two de- 
cades, the research has been mostly confined to 
construction project zones. The most significant 
archaeological projects, completed outside the 
tourist areas, have been by avocational archaeolo- 
gists. It is estimated that approximately 20.000 
acres of the 2.2 million acres of Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park has been surveyed for sites and. while 

more than 1000 sites have been recorded, fewer 
than 60 have been evaluated through test excava- 
tion. It is clear that there are still many significant 
sites to be discovered in Yellowstone National 
Park, leading to more sophisticated analyses and 
altogether new interpretations of precontact Indian 
life in and around the region. 

Folklore and Yellowstone 
National Park 

Of all bodies of cultural data which might 
clearly reveal or indirectly reflect any American 
Indian connections to the greater Yellowstone 
River world, those connected with traditional oral 
narratives are the hardest to find and often prove 
most difficult to authenticate. The apparent dearth 
of such material has prompted park historian Lee 
H. Whittlesey to maintain that. "Other than for this 
story [the Northern Shoshone narrative of the Old 
Woman and the Basket of Fish described in Chap- 
ter 4], there is little reliable information or docu- 
mentation on stories, myths or other folklore that 
may have been told by Indians about present Yel- 
lowstone National Park" (Whittlesey 1996:4). 

An obstacle to assessing the meager amount 
of American Indian folklore purportedly connected 
to Yellowstone National Park is that one is often 
faced with the dilemma which folklorist Richard 
M. Dorson tried to articulate when distinguishing 
folklore from what he called "fakelore." By this 
term Dorson meant material that turns up in trade- 
market compilations which have been so edited, 
rewritten or invented wholecloth as to become 
"pseudo-fairy tales of dubious value for the seri- 
ous student" (Dorson 1983:463). When encounter- 
ing popular publications of collected stories sup- 
posedly Indian in origin Dorson offered the fol- 
lowing words of advice: 

A couple of minutes handling the hook of 
collected folklore can suffice to inform 
probing folklorists as to the general char- 
acter of the goods they hold. Does the col- 
lection contain items of folklore as they 
were actually told, word for word, or are 
the tales or materials paraphrased? Are the 
tellers, singers, and carriers o\' the folk- 
lore — the informants — identified, and not 
just hy names with some personal details'.' 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

And a crucial point, do comparative notes 
accompany the folklore texts, either as an 
introductory headnote (preferably) or in an 
appendix? Are other essential elements of 
the scholarly apparatus present: tables of 
motifs and tale types; a classified bibliog- 
raphy, hopefully with descriptive critical 
comments; a full subject index with a 
breakdown of key entries; an informative 
introduction describing fieldwork meth- 
ods? A few moments of thumbing through 
the pages will provide answers to these 
queries, and the folklorist can judge 
whether the book is a bona fide work worth 
serious attention, or one to be used cau- 
tiously, or to be disregarded [Dorson 

The full range of Dorson's three types — (a) 
bona fide, (b) use cautiously, or (c) disregard en- 
tirely — are to be found in the alleged Yellowstone- 
linked material evaluated during our ethnographic 

Various reasons can be proposed for the pau- 
city of Indian oral narratives related to the park. 
First, the material is out there but researchers have 
not been particularly interested in seeking it out 
from either the archives or from winning the trust 
of American Indians within native communities 
where it might be elicited. Second, the environ- 
mental setting of many traditional narrative genres, 
such as the classic "folktale," are rarely specific 
enough to pinpoint a locale. Third, the century and 
more of forced separation between Indians and the 
park's habitat lessened the relevance and reinforce- 
ment necessary to keep such stories and traditions 
alive. Perhaps a closer look at the inner constitu- 
tion of Indian narratives may help us separate au- 
thentic fictions from inauthentic facts. 

While oral narratives may represent one of 
the most responsive of all culture forms to chang- 
ing historical conditions, different types such as 
myth, folktale and legend display adaptability or 
conservativeness in different ways. First, we shall 
take the category of "Myths," which folklorist 
William Bascom has defined as "prose narratives 
which, in the society in which they are told, are 
considered to be truthful accounts of what hap- 
pened in the remote past" (Bascom 1984:9). The 
only clues that one has concerning the authentic- 
ity of such prose narratives, for the examples pos- 

sibly linked to Yellowstone National Park in this 
project, for instance, are (a) the degree to which 
they are prefaced or concluded with some hint that 
they are the product of a sequence of narrators, a 
tribal inheritance which may even have been ritu- 
alistically transferred from one storyteller to an- 
other within a particular family or social connec- 
tion, and (b) the degree to which one can find other 
authenticated narratives that either corroborate plot 
elements (such as characters, actions, place names 
or geographical features), or narrative themes, 
which reinforce specific functions of the narrative. 
It is their satisfaction of these admittedly 
loose criteria which we try to address wherever 
we insert Indian folklore into this overview, which 
justified for instance, our placing the Kiowa "Heart 
of the World" narrative and such Crow mythic 
narratives as the origins of Mud Volcano and 
Dragon Mouth, into Chapter 1 . Their contrasting 
tribal renditions of the origins of certain thermal 
features struck us as sufficiently consonant with 
contextual data on these tribes' own senses of his- 
tory and mythic events. On the other hand, the 
myth of world origins presented as told by "The 
present-day Indian inhabitants of the Yellowstone 
and Bighorn valleys, whose ancestors hunted bear, 
buffalo and elk in the Devil's Land now known as 
Yellowstone Park" in Louis Freeman's Down the 
Yellowstone, seems completely at variance with 
any Indian theology or folklore of tribes in the re- 
gion, and almost certainly were invented by the 
author. It pits a spirit named Nog, the God of fire, 
against Lob, the god of rains and snows, in a con- 
test over who will control this "most desireable 
section of Creation." In his wisdom the Great Spirit 
divides up its tenure into alternating, six-moon in- 
tervals controlled by each of them. For millenia, 
the story goes, their back-and-forth fight has con- 
tinued, creating in the process beautiful seasons 
around the year around (Freeman 1922:1-3.) 
Clearly this faux narrative of ultimate origins fell 
into the category of myth, if a preposterous one. 
What presented us with a problem, however, was 
that some of our material, especially where Chap- 
ter 4 was concerned, did not neatly fit into 
Bascom's generalized categories. As described 
below, the Plateau narratives that present Coyote's 
earth-creating deeds seemed as much legitimate 
folktales as they did legitimate myths. 



Leaping over the second narrative form of 
"folktale" for the moment, the third narrative genre 
described by Bascom, the "legend," certainly dis- 
plays a more direct and overt flexibility to histori- 
cal change. According to Bascom, "Legends are 
prose narratives which, like myths, are regarded 
as true by the narrator and his audience, but which 
are set in a period considered less remote, when 
the world was much as it is today" (Bascom 
1984:9). But again, if any Yellowstone National 
Park-linked "legendary" narratives are to be taken 
as issuing from any Indian's mouth, some corrobo- 
rative or contextual evidence must lend them cred- 
ibility. In the absence of internal evidence that they 
possess some formal characteristics of native story- 
telling practices, and with the lack of any contex- 
tual confirmation, it is difficult to assess their 
authenticity. When considering Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park-connected Indian narratives this is cru- 
cial, because if it was not originally Indian-spo- 
ken there often may be a hidden agenda behind 
the storyline which can nonetheless lend valuable 
insights into non-Indian attitudes at the time. 

For instance, one of the earliest questionable 
Indian legends relating to Yellowstone National 
Park is found in what is probably the park's first 
guidebook, Harry J. Norton's 1883 Wonder-Land 
Illustrated; or, Horseback Rides through the Yel- 
lowstone National Park. On page 31 there is 
Norton's early reassurance for prospective visitors 
to the park that, "Dangers from Indians there is 
none" (Norton 1873:31). Backing up his certitude 
of safety is his reference to a pervasive Indian be- 
lief that the thermal field is where the Indian's 
"Manitou displays his anger towards his red chil- 
dren." But then Norton serves up a second Yel- 
lowstone National Park-related piece of Indian 

There is another tradition current among 
the Sioux and Crows to this effect: Some 
years ago, the Sioux and Crows, then 
friendly to each other, were en route to the 
Upper Yellowstone and Madison Rivers, 
on a hunting expedition, and while en- 
camped in the seeond canon of the Yellow- 
stone, nearly opposite Emigrant Peak, they 
were hemmed in at both entrances by the 
Ne/ Perces, Bannocks, and Flatheads 
(then, .is now. at war with the Sioux and 

the Crows), and the whole party massacred. 
For this reason these tribes never ascend 
the river above the canyon named for fear 
of meeting a similar fate (Norton 1873:31] 

Aside from the fact that there is no corrobo- 
ration in physical evidence nor in other Indian 
narratives from any of these tribes for this par- 
ticular fight, nor any record of these blood enemies, 
the Sioux and Crow ever being friendly enough to 
join hunting forces, as will be seen in Chapter's 1 
and 2, there is ethnographic evidence of continu- 
ous Crow knowledge of the park, as well as the 
presence of long-used archaeological sites in the 
Yellowstone Canyon and Emigrant Peak region. 
One must suspect that this "legend" has been in- 
vented wholecloth or taken from another ethno- 
graphic context and distorted to support the posi- 
tive, secure, non-Indian face which Yellowstone 
National Park, from its establishment well into the 
20th century, has sought to present to potential cli- 

A second example of a highly suspicious 
"legendary" Indian narrative connected to Yellow- 
stone National Park that we could not justify in- 
cluding in Chapter 1 also features Crow Indians. 
It is entitled "A Yellowstone Tragedy," and was 
published in the 1896 by the anthologist Charles 
M. Skinner with no attribution ( Skinner 1896:204- 
206). It appears drawn from an apparently invented 
article headlined "A Thrilling Event on the Yel- 
lowstone" written by Charles Sunderlee in the 
Helena Herald newspaper for May 18, 1870, which 
was later picked up uncritically by the otherwise 
able folklorist, Ella E. Clark, and entitled "Defi- 
ance at Yellowstone Falls" for her collection In- 
dian Legends from the Northern Rockies (Clark 
1966:323-24), and which Aubrey L. Haines justi- 
fiably describes as "a gross falsification presented 
in the romantic manner best termed a Hiawatha 
treatment" (Haines 1996:339). 

Accompanied by an early photograph of Yel- 
lowstone Falls, the Skinner rendition opens with 
the statement that while "the Indians" feared the 
"hissing and thundering" spirits of the geyser ba- 
sin, they regarded the mountains at the head of the 
river as "the crest of the world" from which they 
could see the landscape where their deceased still 
lived on in happiness. It takes a bit of time before 
we learn the tribal identity of these natives, but 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

eventually we are told that "They loved this land 
in which their fathers had hunted," and it goes on, 
"when they were driven back from the settlements 
the Crows took refuge in what is now Yellowstone 
Park." But with white soldiers in hot pursuit "in- 
tent on avenging acts the red men had committed 
while suffering under the sting of tyranny and 
wrong," only a fugitive remnant of the Crow man- 
age to gather at the end of Yellowstone's Grand 
Canyon. Just below the upper falls they hastily 
build a raft, and in a final suicide run, they plunge 
down the canyon. The solders suspend fire and 
watch "with something like dread" as the Indian 
"death-chant" is drowned out by the roar of the 

Apart from the fact that Crows were well- 
known for their friendship with whites, there are 
no substantiating Crow narratives in any schol- 
arly or tribal compilations for this collective with- 
drawal by any portion of the tribe into the Yellow- 
stone, nor any tribal prototypes for mass suicide, 
although tales of individual warriors engaging in 
displays of courageous self-annihilation do occur. 
One must conclude that the story is either a total 
invention or a misappropriation of another tribal 
story, set within or reframed inside of the park. 
However, the narrative still remains a revealing 
reflection of some segment of non-Indian attitudes 
or wishful fantasies about Indians and Yellowstone 
National Park at the end of the 19th century. It viv- 
idly dramatizes one version of the "Vanishing In- 
dian" theme to be addressed in our last chapter, 
and hence deserves consideration as part of the 
full cultural history of the park, although without 
further comparative or contextual data it is use- 
less as a reflection of Indian historical connections 
to the region. 

A third, seemingly spurious, Yellowstone 
National Park "legend" seems generally to follow 
the prescription for such fakelore which W.E. 
Webb defined, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, over a 
century ago: 

As no remarkable spot in Indian land 
should ever be brought before the public 
without an accompanying legend, I shall 
present one. . .To make tourists fully appre- 
ciate a high bluff or picturesquely danger- 
ous spot, it is absolutely essential that some 
fond lovers should have jumped down it, 

hand-in-hand, in sight of the cruel parents, 
who struggle up the incline, only to be re- 
warded by the heart-rending finale [Webb 

The narrative in question is titled "Over The 
Waterfall" and concerns a Bannock Indian named 
Arropine, who supposedly became Jim Bridger's 
scout into the Yellowstone. Buried within an early 
western botanical guidebook, Farm Friends and 
Spring Flowers (1913), the one of three authors 
charged with supplying Indian narratives, Eliza- 
beth Cannon Porter, asks that we take seriously a 
romance between Arropine, captive to the 
Blackfeet, and Blue Feather, a beautiful Blackfeet 
maiden (An equally questionable Indian romance 
situated in the park is that between Arquetta and 
Red Arrow, found in W. Allen's discredited book 
on the Sheep Eaters— Allen 1913:52-74). But 
Arropine has a rival, the crafty and cunning 
Blackfeet warrior, Rain-in-the-Face. As the lov- 
ers plan to slip away, Arropine says to Blue 

Beyond this lake lies a lake where fire and 
boiling water burst from the earth. Your 
people and mine believe that it is haunted 
by evil spirits so they never go there, but a 
miserable tribe called the Sheep Eaterss 
hide there because they will not fight and 
they are less afraid of the spirits than they 
are of our warriors [Paul, Barnes and Por- 
ter 1913:70]. 

They find fish and cook them in the boiling 
hot springs. They see the geysers spout and Blue 
Feather is terrified by them. They watch the rose- 
colored steam above the lakes and notice the plen- 
tiful game. Against her lover's advice, Blue Feather 
drinks from a purplish spring and grows sick. They 
are intercepted by her people but, unlike the self- 
destruction motif of the previous piece of fakelore, 
when they must face the test of canoeing over the 
falls, they manage to survive. The story ends, "Af- 
ter resting a little, the two were permitted to take 
their departure for the Bannocks in the North. 
Arropine knew all about the Yellowstone, and later 
acted as a guide for Jim Bridger, when the white 
trapper went to explore the wonders of geyserland" 
(Paul, Barnes and Cannon 1913:72). 

Nothing about the story rings true, of course, 
but contemporary Indians might not take much 



consolation from the fact that apart from recycling 
the stereotype about native fear of the geysers, 
the narrative does not close with symbolic fatal- 
ism and death reminiscent of the "vanishing In- 
dian" theme mentioned above. For it evokes an- 
other demeaning stereotypical role for Indian 
males found in frontier literature, that of the Uncas 
or the Tonto, the loyal "Indian Scout" who blithely 
guides the white man to America's natural won- 
ders — in this case the Yellowstone National Park 
region, which the story reminds us they had no 
use for anyway — for the white newcomers to do 
with as they may. 

Finally, a fourth, equally problematic "leg- 
end" relating Indians to the greater Yellowstone 
region and its mountain-dwelling Shoshoneans 
originates from the collection of reminiscences, 
Six Decades Back (1936), by the Idaho popular 
historian Charles S. Walgamott, who claimed to 
have heard it from a Bannock woman named "In- 
dian Mary" whom he met in 1875 at Rock Creek 
in southern Idaho. Again we have the romantic 
central plot of an Indian love affair, this one be- 
tween a lovely Bannock known as "The Beautiful 
One" and her suitor, the great hunter named "Plenty 
Meat." After her father gives her in marriage to 
another, her true love mourns in a sacred cave in 
Snake River Canyon. When the new bride rebuffs 
her unwelcome husband, she runs away to her first 
and only love. But the furious mate takes revenge 
by using magic to age her into an old crone. From 
their hideaway cave the lovers relish the beauties 
of the Sawtooth Mountains, then visit Shoshone 
Falls, and finally enter a canyon-like "Lover's 
Lane" where her beauty is restored. They encoun- 
ter enemy Blackfeet, who pursue them only to 
come upon a miniature encampment, featuring 
small arrowheads made of black, red and white 
obsidian. As the Blackfeet approached a "land that 
was on Fire and so greatly feared by the Indians" 
(Walgamott 1936: 1 16), they are so in awe that they 
leave the couple alone. The two are commanded 
by the Great Spirit to climb a peak near the Big 
Wood River until they find a "lake where the fish 
are red" and there they will establish "a tribe to be 
known as the Indians of the Clouds." 

Living in happy isolation for a long while, 
Indians with ponies and rifles enter their world. 
They are bad Indians, we are told, who fall under 

the benign influence of these Cloud Indians. To 
make their own bullets the Great Spirit shows them 
where to dig out lead, and where to mine silver to 
craft into ornaments. They still survive on moun- 
tain sheep, however, or Tukuahkus (Walgamott 
1936:119). But then "the beautiful one" has an 
ominous vision of the coming of the "Pale-Face 
and the "Iron Horse." Finally, one of their group 
named "Bloody Hand," a member of those horse- 
bearers who had joined them, reverts to type and 
kills a prospector for his horse and belongings. 
With the demise of The Beautiful One. the story ends 
as the white-hating Bloody Hand takes charge. 

As the story's conclusion informs us that 
these people are the Sheep Eaters, presumably of 
the dangerous Idaho strain who in four years will 
assault whites, in effect non-Indian readers now 
have a prophetic, native explanation for the strong 
ambivalence they may feel about Indians in gen- 
eral, as both Noble Redmen and Bloodthirsty Sav- 
ages. So while this narrative may be useless for 
examination as a plausible reflection of Indian 
thought, it is priceless for its insights into Euro- 
American psychology about Indians. Although 
surely a projective fantasy, like other stories col- 
lated into folklore collections this specimen of 
Yellowstone National Park fakelore has been ac- 
cepted uncritically as a valid "legend" of the 
Northwest (Salmonson 1995:123-140). Yet some 
of its implications are patently clear: good Indi- 
ans stay by themselves and stare at beautiful sun- 
sets; bad Indians adopt white ways and want more 
of them. The good Indian is too pure to survive 
the modern world and obligingly becomes extinct 
in an age where history has replaced myth. But 
the bad Indian hangs around to compete with 
whites and bedevil history. 

Some of the publications which purportedly 
tie together American Indian traditions and Yel- 
lowstone National Park also exemplify the fusion 
of the categories of myth, legend and folktale. But 
unfortunately they fail Dorson's prima facae con- 
ditions for separating folklore from fakelore. Ei- 
ther they appear to be outright fabrications, or they 
lack attribution and represent Indian narratives 
which were so rewritten that their cultural infor- 
mation and valid emotional associations are irre- 
vocably distorted, and any links to native sources 
or preexisting folklore materials are impossible to 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

reconstruct. It is ironic that the sole mention of 
Indians whatsoever in a day-by-day Yellowstone 
National Park tour script in the mid-1920s drew 
upon such questionable lore. Yet even this tall tale 
evoked a negative link between Indians and the 
park, for as the tour moved through the Upper 
Geyser Basin, the script had the guide summarize 
some yarns told by the old scout Jim Bridger: "An- 
other one accredited to Bridger is this: A portion 
of the park was cursed by an Indian chieftain so 
that everything was petrified, not only the trees 
and flowers, but also the birds and waterfalls. Even 
the sunshine was petrified" (Yellowstone National 
Park Archives, File N. 154.3 1, Lectures, Fiscal Year 
1925, 1926, 1927). Other examples of park-related 
"fakelore" are to be found in such collections as 
Mary Earle Hardy's Little Ta-Wish-Indian Legends 
from Geyserland (Chicago & New York: Rand 
McNally & Co., 1914) or La Verne Fitzgerald's 
Black Feather: Trapper Jim s Fables ofSheepeater 
Indians in Yellowstone (Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton, 
1933), that was greatly borrowed from Dr. Will- 
iam A. Allen's discredited book on the Sheep Eat- 
ers. (Also dismissible for bearing any legitimate 
connection to history of Indians in the park are 
such examples of popular culture as the song about 
Bannock chief, Pocatello, which is found in Dr. 
and Mrs. N.W. Christiansen's 1953 publication, A 
Trip Through Yellowstone Park: Interesting Events 
Portrayed in Music — whose lyrics are too insult- 
ingly stereotypical to bear repeating (Madsen 

In many cases Bascom's second narrative 
genre, the "folktale," appears more susceptible to 
changing historical circumstances than myths. His 
definition of a folktale is "prose narratives which 
are regarded as fiction" (Bascom 1984:8). While 
specificity of place is rarely a strong element in 
this genre, their more everyday role in person-to- 
person oral exchanges often means that in times 
of conflict they can carry secret messages or 
subtexts that provide psychological reassurance to 
Indian listeners and underscore old Indian values. 
A good example from Yellowstone National Park- 
associated Indian tribes is the folktale which Rob- 
ert Lowie collected from the Lemhi Shoshone at 
Fort Hall in 1909. While Lowie complained that 
when he asked about native lore concerning the 
visit of Lewis and Clark — after they had secured 

the invaluable services of their legendary Shos- 
hone guide, Sacajawea, in North Dakota- — he was 
told instead about a contest between Wolf (or Coy- 
ote) and Iron Man, known as the "father of the 
Whites" (Lowie 1909:25 If). As he would write 
later, the experience made Lowie dismissive of the 
truth-value of Indian notions of history (Lowie 
1917). But a deeper reading of this story shows the 
classic protagonist of most native folktale genres, 
the trickster Coyote, defending his Indian peoples 
against the not-so-overpowering white man. 

As we shall see in the genuine story-telling 
traditions reflected in Chapter 4, while Coyote in 
most of his multiple-personalities functions as a 
destabilizer of authority and an uncontrollably and 
hilariously anti-social being, in the folktales of the 
California, Great Basin and the Plateau culture 
areas in particular he is often traditionally mani- 
fested in what Coyote scholar William Bright char- 
acterizes as his "bricoleur" role (Bright 1993). By 
this term Bright refers to Coyote's function as a 
transformer of the world, who defeats a primor- 
dial race of monsters and renders the earth safe 
for human occupancy while creating, through his 
beneficial deeds, the topographical features of the 
landscape as we know it today. Here Coyote is 
operating at a time when the earth is extremely 
volatile, a state-of-existence which Yellowstone 
National Park, more than any other location in the 
continent perhaps, exemplifies, and a fact which 
Indians, like any peoples who confront the place, 
would have processed through their native catego- 
ries of conceptual thought. 

But how are we to explain why we do not 
see more folktales referencing the park's stupen- 
dous natural phenomena — virtually none appear 
in Shoshone coyote narratives in Robert Lowie's 
The Northern Shoshone (1909), Sarah Emelia 
Olden's Shoshone Folk Lore (1923), or Rupert 
Weeks' Pachee Goyo: History and Legends from 
the Shoshone (1981)? One answer may be that the 
still-volatile landscape which Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park exhibits to the awe of the world is tes- 
tament to the fact that in this unique spot, at least, 
Coyote's task of earth transformation is not yet 
ready for tidy framing in a narrative memorial. 
Within the primordial turbulence of Yellowstone 
National Park, clearly Coyote still has his work 
cut out for him. 



To obtain a culture-history of the American 
Indian's Yellowstone Plateau which is truly "in the 
round," to borrow the late Wilcomb Washburn's 
phrase for successful ethnohistory, we have at- 
tempted to draw upon, cross-reference and com- 
bine the data yielded by each of these four sub- 
disciplines of the humanities and social sciences. 

Conditions and Constraints 
of this Study 

For a number of reasons already mentioned, 
this overview of the ethnographic resources of 
Yellowstone National Park has been an uphill 

First among the obstacles has been the afore- 
mentioned issue of the inadequate archaeological 
data base from which to build up the ethnographic 
data and against which to compare it for detecting 
cultural continuities and disjunctures. Since the 
present overview was not funded to conduct any 
original archaeological research, our only recourse 
in this document has been to return to the scat- 
tered reports and professional papers related to the 
prehistoric cultures within or immediately around 
the park and, in as disciplined a manner as pos- 
sible, attempt to provide a fresh montage of the 
most up-to-date data regarding the lifeways of 
these aboriginal inhabitants. 

A second barrier to ethnographically access- 
ing the American Indian record on the park is the 
fact that after the late 1870s the abrogation of their 
interests in the Greater Yellowstone region (as else- 
where in the West) was federal policy in general. 
Although Thomas Jefferson warned in 1812 that 
any Indians who refused to assimilate or abandon 
their lands "would relapse into barbarism and mis- 
ery" whereupon the Euro-Americans would "be 
obliged to drive them with the beasts of the for- 
ests into the stony [Rocky] mountains" (Letter of 
Jefferson to John Adams, March 1812. in Foley 
1900:422-3), little more than a half-century later 
Indians were about to lose even that mountain re- 
treat. For as far as any traditional hunting, forag- 
ing, trading, raiding or other cultural activities were 
concerned, as this overview will specify in chap- 
ter after chapter, by the early 1880s Indians were 
effectively banned from entry into Yellowstone 

National Park or from the exploitation of its fau- 
na! and floral resources. This time frame hovers 
on the far side of what scholars of preliterate tra- 
ditions determine to be within oral history's reach, 
from 75 to 150 years — and the ability of even that 
stretch of direct oral memory is closely related to 
a people's continuous access to the landscape with 
its toponymic and mnemonic abilities to trigger 
historical memories (Bahr 1994:2-6, drawing upon 
Vansina 1985). But as Bahr's work with Piman 
historical materials from southern Arizona also 
points out, we must never forget that in the minds 
of many native peoples "myth" can also carry im- 
portant and demonstrably "valid" historical infor- 
mation, in terms of both hard facts and cultural 
concepts and practices. 

Recovering American Indian memories on 
Yellowstone proves to be a difficult, time-consum- 
ing and sketchy process, requiring extreme pa- 
tience, archival skills, and the ability to overcome 
a backlog of Euro- American and American Indian 
attitudes. As if summarizing pervasive attitudes 
towards Indians while expressing the degree to 
which military policy towards them was common 
knowledge, a stage driver told Eliza and Annie 
Upham on their ride back from a tour around Mud 
Cauldron in Yellowstone National Park on Sept. 
16, 1892, that the local natives were "no more to be 
trusted than a rattlesnake... were dirty and lazy," 
and he added in no uncertain terms that "Indians 
are not allowed in the Park" (Buffalo Bill Histori- 
cal Center Archives: "Eliza A. and S. Annie 
Uphams' Excursion with the Raymond Party to 
The Yellowstone National Park In September 
1892," pp. 37-39). 

For tribe after tribe, this suppression of tra- 
ditional ties to their old Yellowstone hunting and 
traveling grounds precipitated a century-long pe- 
riod of broken connections. Rendering the Yellow- 
stone National Park off base to Indians during that 
extended time period meant that any Indian tradi- 
tions of practical use. narrative folklore or histori- 
cal memories related to the park area went 
unrenewed through the sort of periodic visitation 
and continued activities which Indians did man- 
age to enjoy in less sensitive or less desirable ar- 
eas. From generation to generation, without ac- 
cess to geographic reference points in and around 
the park by which to anchor and remember them. 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

the stories of Crows, Blackfeet, Flatheads, Ban- 
nock, Shoshones and quite likely other Plains In- 
dian groups related to mythic origins or legendary 
events, as well as detailed accounts of plant-for- 
aging, game-hunting, medicine-acquisition, spiri- 
tual activities or war-raiding, were thinned out with 
disuse or forgotten entirely. 

With traditional links between Indians and 
the park effectively severed so early the data base 
derived from early anthropologists has also proven 
thin, the opportunity to recover contemporary eth- 
nographic information is very rare, and our recon- 
struction has often been left to chasing shadows. 
It must also be stated quite frankly that this his- 
torical rupture between Indians and the park has 
left a legacy of bad feelings. This has clouded our 
efforts to develop the bonds of mutual trust and 
collaborative interest that are critical for effective 
ethnographic fieldwork. 

In the informational vacuum created by these 
years of Indian absence from Yellowstone, a fourth 
problem for researchers has been the amount of 
misguided conjecture and negative stereotype 
which have filled the void. From the point of view 
of scholarship, this situation is not unlike that 
which anthropologist Verne F. Ray described for 
his reconsideration of the cultural importance of 
northwestern Plateau Indians. By the late 1930s 
Ray had finally collected a decade's worth of field 
and library data so as to challenge the prevailing 
scholarly opinion largely established by Herbert 
Joseph Spinden, which held that this culture area 
of the Columbia Plateau was only a transitional, 
impoverished patchwork of watered-down and 
borrowed traits from more influential, neighbor- 
ing regions. In order to argue that "Plateau culture 
could hardly be more grossly misinterpreted" (Ray 
1978:3), Ray finally compiled his landmark mono- 
graph to demonstrate how quite the reverse was 
true — but it took awhile. 

Our overview of the "ethnographic re- 
sources" of Yellowstone National Park has devel- 
oped much the same agenda. Due to misinterpre- 
tations about hunting and foraging "Digger" In- 
dian groups which in no small measure were bor- 
rowed from derogatory characterizations of Na- 
tive California and Nevada Shoshoneans and ap- 
plied to the park's original inhabitants, then fur- 
ther exacerbated by misinterpretations of 

ethnohistorical data regarding the attitudes of the 
park's surrounding native groups towards its 
unique natural features, the story of the Indians' 
Yellowstone has remained largely misguided or 
untold. Any survey of the park's ethnographic re- 
sources must therefore wrestle with the following 
pieces of received wisdom: 

1 . The park was never more than thinly popu- 
lated by Indians who had only marginal in- 
terest in its resources. 

2. The only full-time residents of the park were 
isolated bands of Sheep Eaters who were 
timid, impoverished and were culturally un- 

3. The horse-riding Plains Indians who lived 
around the park shied away from its thermal 
areas because they were afraid of the gey- 

4. Once the park was formally established and 
the Indian wars ceased in the late 1870s Indi- 
ans had no further interest in the park. 

To their considerable credit the park and its 
historians have over the years periodically ques- 
tioned these propositions and shifted position on 
them from time to time. But too often, however, 
quite a different strategy seems to have been 
adopted, which has raised a fifth obstacle to any 
ethnographic overview. This strategy has been sim- 
ply to drop Indians out of the park equation alto- 
gether, to summarily ignore or excise their pres- 
ence from the full records of park annals, or to 
frontload a summary account of them in an obliga- 
tory opening chapter of their books before whisk- 
ing ahead to the more "serious" administrative or 
environmental sides to the Yellowstone story which 
thereafter never need to mention Indians again. 

This subtler omission or negation of the pos- 
sible roles and ongoing interests of Indians in the 
park seems a sanitized, modern counterpart to the 
earlier denial of their physical presence by offi- 
cial coercion. Yet in the long term it might be con- 
sidered more effective, for its net effect has been 
to "disappear" the Indian story from the grand cul- 
ture-history of Yellowstone. 

When governmental recognition of Indians 
first peaked in this century, during John Collier's 
"Indian New Deal" in the late 1930s, ethnographers 



were assigned to include Indians in their written 
summaries of park history, such as Glacier Na- 
tional Park (Beals 1935). Yet the official guidebook 
to Yellowstone National Park not once mentioned 
Indians in its text, and even omitted them when 
Obsidian Cliff was mentioned, while its chrono- 
logical timeline forefronted General O.O. 
Howard's heroic pursuit of a lone Nez Perce In- 
dian, Chief Joseph, and the sole book it advertised 
on Indians which was available in the park's book- 
store was the certifiably bogus Trapper Jim's 
Fables of'Sheepeater Indians in Yellowstone men- 
tioned above (Fitzgerald 1933). 

To be sure, it is unfair to apply today's stan- 
dards for fair representation to yesteryear. But then 
what is one to make of the most recent semi-popu- 
lar overview of Yellowstone National Park, The 
Spirit of Yellowstone: The Cultural Evolution of a 
National Park (Meyer 1996)? Written from a cul- 
tural geographer's point-of-view and published by 
an academic press, this recent work purports to 
focus "on Yellowstone's history as place, as a 
shared geographic and cultural reality, and its pow- 
erful and persistent spirit of place" (Meyer 
1996: 1 14). Yet its text devotes only a single sen- 
tence to the role of Indians in that "cultural evolu- 
tion" or in the diversity of human responses to 
Yellowstone's "spirit of place." Unable to ignore 
Joseph Wiexelman's persuasive 1992 graduate 
work which fought against the persistent idea that 
Indians were unanimously afraid of the geysers 
and hence steered clear of the park, this isolated 
statement goes, "Recent scholarship indicates that 
Native Americans were the first to recognize the 
spirit of place unique to the Yellowstone region 
centuries before whites entered the surrounding 
areas" (Meyer 1996:32). Ignoring for the moment 
the fact that the finding of an Agate Basin point 
which was sourced to Yellowstone National Park 
and dated to about 10,000 years ago would mean 
that we should probably correct her "centuries" to 
"millennia (Cannon 1993:8)," Meyer's subsequent 
dismissal of Indians from the "cultural evolution" 
of the park may not responsibly reflect current 
official reconsiderations of their role but is clearly 
indicative of and reinforces a large sector of pub- 
lic and even scholarly opinion. And this opinion is 
hardh 'enlightened or altered by the books, signage. 
lectures, museum exhibits or multimedia presen- 

tations which are presently available to the gen- 
eral public in or around the park. 

Correcting the Record: 
New Approaches 

In this report we are attempting to deliver 
the best summary we can of "hard evidence" re- 
lated to the roles of Indians in and around Yellow- 
stone National Park. But under today's ethnologi- 
cal standards a comprehensive "cultural overview" 
demands more than that. First, we are taking seri- 
ously the "representations" of Indians whose lives 
have impacted on the history of Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park. Most especially will the reader notice 
this emphasis in Chapter 3. where we delineate 
the stereotypes which have attached themselves 
to the history of the Sheep Eaters, those one-time 
residents of the Yellowstone Plateau. Second, we 
are taking the liberty of occasionally providing 
circumstantial data where we have been unable to 
locate a mother lode of direct, hard information. 
Again the reader will most notice this approach in 
our chapter on the Sheep Eaters, where we have 
contextualized every scrap of information we could 
find about their material culture with information 
from adjacent native groups and sources. 

Nor have we been content to recycle received 
wisdom and shopworn scenarios regarding the re- 
lationships between different American Indian 
peoples and Yellowstone National Park. We have 
tried to pay attention to the fact that previous writ- 
ings and compilations of data were reflections of 
their particular times and agendas. At moments in 
this report we have been compelled to do more 
than take them at face value; we have tried to place 
older data within changing intellectual trends. 

Under contemporary standards of ethno- 
graphic practice, any "ethnographic overview" also 
requires us to reexamine the ethnographic facts that 
non-Indians have generated out of their precon- 
ceptions and intentions concerning the relation- 
ships between American Indians and Yellowstone 
National Park. To accomplish this we must revisit 
the historical contexts for various "representations" 
of tribal groups related to Yellowstone National 
Park, whether those representations be official park 
communications, museum exhibits, public signage. 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

pamphlets on Indians for the general public, vid- 
eos for general consumption, memoirs by park 
personnel, and so forth. Today any responsible 
cultural anthropologist or ethnographer must con- 
sider all of these "representations" as "ethno- 
graphic resources" which are equally relevant to 
the study of this topic as American Indian data. 
This self-scrutiny is necessary in order to clarify 
the political, economic or bureaucratic agendas 
which may have promoted these portrayals. 

This is cultural anthropology's counterpart 
to what Gary A. Wright has argued concerning the 
efforts of archaeologists to understand Yellowstone 
high country prehistory: ". . .the first duty of an ar- 
chaeologist is not (despite the dictum from intro- 
ductory textbooks) to build a satisfactory absolute 
chronology for a stratigraphic sequence. Rather, it 
is to realize that the dates themselves are data that 
may be used for testing hypotheses... "(Wright 
1982:158). The same must be said of the various 
forms of ethnographic data which are analogous 
to archaeology's "dates"; in both cases we must 
now recognize that the products of knowledge 
which themselves generate new knowledge must 
remain under our scrutiny, and therefore "are data" 
as well. 

This revolution in contemporary ethno- 
graphic practice means we must always regard 
culture and our views of "it", in the words of the 
anthropological critic James Clifford, as "produced 
historically." Clifford goes on to emphasize that 
"Culture is contested, temporal and emergent. 
Representation and explanation — both by insid- 
ers and outsiders — is implicated in this emergence" 
(Clifford 1986:18-19). This is what the eminent 
anthropologist Paul Rabinow means by entitling 
his essay in the same groundbreaking volume 
where Clifford expressed his remarks: "Represen- 
tations are social facts" (Rabinow 1986). And 
Rabinow winds up exhorting today's ethnogra- 
phers to " attentive to our historical practice 
of projecting our cultural practices onto the 
other. . . We need to anthropologize the West: show 
how exotic its constitution of reality has 
been... show how their claims to truth are linked 
to social practices and have hence become effec- 
tive forces in the social world" (Rabinow 
1986:24 1 ). Reviewing Clifford's following clarion 
call for this promising new dimension of contem- 

porary ethnography, it is hard to think of a better 
laboratory or new "dialogical" fieldsite than the 
past and present sets of relationships (and their rep- 
resentations) between American Indians and Yel- 
lowstone National Park: 

" are the truths of cultural accounts 
evaluated? Who has the authority to sepa- 
rate science from art? realism from fan- 
tasy? knowledge from ideology? Of course 
such separations will continue to be main- 
tained, and redrawn; but their changing 
poetic and political grounds will be less 
easily ignored. In cultural studies at least, 
we can no longer know the whole truth, or 
even claim to approach it. . .But is there not 
a liberation, too, in recognizing that no one 
can write about others any longer as if they 
were discrete objects or texts? And may 
not the vision of a complex, problematic, 
partial ethnography lead, not to its aban- 
donment, but to more subtle, concrete ways 
of writing and reading, to new conceptions 
of culture as interactive and historical" 
[Clifford 1986: 25, emphasis ours]. 

It is this give-and-take between what used to 
be called "hard data" in the days of positivistic 
ethnography, and the discipline's growing aware- 
ness over the past twenty-five years that we only 
know facts through their representation (which it- 
self is always culturally and historically deter- 
mined), which must, to some degree, inform this 
report if it is to meet the standards of a up-to-date 

Yellowstone's Indians in 1872 

In the year of Yellowstone National Park's 
creation American Indian tribes of the Rocky 
Mountain West were in a state of tremendous up- 
heaval, transformation and insecurity. Only one 
year earlier, the Indian Appropriation Act of March 
3, 1871 (16 U.S. Stat. 544,566) had effectively re- 
versed the government's Indian policy which had 
prevailed since the days of George Washington. 
Whereas the official status of Indians described 
variously as "distinct, independent, political 
communities" or "dependant nations" had ac- 
knowledged their semi-sovereign ability to sign 
treaties with the U.S. government, in this amend- 
ment which was tacked onto the 187 1 Indian Ap- 



propriation Act, the increasingly criticized and be- 
grudging acknowledgment of Indian autonomy 
was now considered, in the words of Commis- 
sioner of Indian Affairs Francis A. Walker in 1 874, 
"a mere form to amuse and quiet savages, a half- 
compassionate, half-contemptuous humoring of 
unruly children" (in Prucha 1985:16). 

Although this Act did not extinguish the last- 
ing terms or obligations associated with the some 
370 preexisting treaties between the U.S. and a 
host of Indian peoples, from this day forward rec- 
ognition of Indian tribes as nations or independent 
powers was outlawed, and negotiating any further 
treaties was forbidden. In terms of the history of 
Yellowstone National Park it is ironic that the very 
last U.S. treaty with Indians to implicitly affirm 
the political independence of a native group was 
with the very tribe whose fight to retain that free- 
dom saw the first blood to be shed in a national 
park. With the signing of a treaty with the Nez 
Perce on August 13, 1868 ( 1 5 U.S. Stat. 693), what 
most Indians regarded as sacred pledges on the 
part of the United States to preserve Indian politi- 
cal authority were now regarded by the govern- 
ment as anachronisms. 

It is also ironic that just as the federal gov- 
ernment started protecting the nation's wildlife and 
scenic landscapes it was beginning to tighten her 
control over the region's native cultures who had 
survived on those animals and considered that 
country their own. The years that cluster around 
the birth of Yellowstone National Park were a 
major turning point for Indians in U.S. history, 
because now Indian nations shifted from the sta- 
tus of free-traveling, autonomous tribes to clus- 
ters of dependant, remnant natives who were se- 
questered on reservations administered by the 
Department of War. In addition, the year 1872 saw 
the government complete an about-face in its phi- 
losophy about how Indian reservations should be 
run. Until 1868 the War Department had been in 
charge of Indians, but with the ascent of Ulysses 
S. Grant to the presidency that year he instituted a 
policy of pacifying and assimilating Indians in- 
stead of making war on them, which was popu- 
larly known as the "Peace Policy." 

This approach saw the replacement of mili- 
tary officers as Indian agents by appointments from 
religious denominations. Beginning with the plac- 

ing of men from the pacifist Society of Friends in 
control of reservations in Nebraska. Kansas and 
Indian Territory, this shift from military to civil- 
ian authority was made official when Congress, 
in 1870 (16 U.S. Stat. 62; 16 U.S. Stat. 319) offi- 
cially forbade military men from filling Indian 
agency posts. By 1872 candidates from a dozen 
religious groups were functioning as Indian agents 
for sixty-three of the nation's seventy-five reser- 
vation agencies. For tribes immediately associated 
with the greater Yellowstone ecosystem this meant 
that by 1872 the Methodists were assigned to place 
their men in charge of the Crow, Blackfeet and 
Fort Hall Indian agencies, an Episcopalian was 
running the Shoshone Reservation south of the 
park, and the Flathead were allowed to retain their 
strong ties to the Catholic church, while the Nez 
Perce were under the control of a Presbyterian. 

For Indian peoples whose culture-histories 
linked them to the Yellowstone region, conditions 
on reservation and off-reservation life differed 
from place to place. But the new environmental, 
social and political realities taking shape by 1872 
were momentous and disruptive for all these tribes. 
Aside from specifics to be described in the chap- 
ters to follow, these Crows, Shoshones. Bannocks, 
Flatheads and others were now facing the same 
grim realities: population decline due to disease, 
warfare and despair, disarray of established socio- 
political regimes and threats to the authority of tra- 
ditional chiefs, loss of their once-reliable buffalo, 
swelling numbers of white ranchers, miners, rail- 
road workers and settlers, greater opportunities for 
cross-cultural encounters or misunderstandings to 
flare into bloodshed, mounting pressures to yield 
their hunting grounds and familiar landscapes, and 
the destabilization of family unity by sending their 
children off to boarding schools and converting 
the parents to Christianity and farming. 

In 1872 the quelling of rebellious western 
tribes was barely underway. A great body of Sioux 
tribes was momentarily flexing its muscles, hav- 
ing temporarily won back from the uncharacteris- 
tically conciliatory Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 
their rights to the Powder River country. Within 
only two years George Armstrong Custer's explor- 
atory expedition into the Black Hills would vio- 
late that document, however, and incite the last 
phase of the Great Sioux War. Meanwhile, this 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Figure 1.1. Map of approximate tribal territories in and around the Yellowstone Plateau, c. 1850. 

vigorous Sioux war machine was invading Crow 
country with such ferocity that in 1872 some of 
their white supporters believed the tribe to be on 
the verge of annihilation. 

Not helping the tense atmosphere in the 
greater Yellowstone region was a widespread anti- 
Indian sentiment which spread from the muddy 
streets of Bannack, Virginia City and Deadwood 
in the west to the halls of Washington, D.C., in the 
east. During the 1868 debate over putting a stop to 
treaty-making with Indians, a congressman from 
Montana, James Michael Cavanaugh, voiced the 
hard line position: 

I have never in my life seen a good Indian 
(and I have seen thousands) except when I 
have seen a dead Indian.... I believe in the 
policy that exterminates the Indian, drives 

them outside the boundaries of civilization, 
because you cannot civilize them [Con- 
gressional Globe 1868:2638]. 

A view with slightly more leeway was of- 
fered in 1872 by Ferdinand V. Hayden, the earliest 
surveyor of Yellowstone National Park: 

The present Indian policy, which doubtless 
looks forward to the localizing and settle- 
ment of these roving tribes, is ultimately 
connected with the agricultural develop- 
ment of the West. Unless they are local- 
ized and made to enter upon agricultural 
and pastoral pursuits they must ultimately 
be exterminated. There is no middle ground 
between these extremes. . .If extermination 
is the result of non-compliance, then com- 
pulsion is an act of mercy [Hayden 



Besides the options of Indian compliance 
with assimilation, or resistance and extermination, 
was a third possibility. This was the likelihood that 
Indians would simply die off and disappear. Pre- 
vailing in the minds of sympathetic writers was 
the theory of the "Vanishing Indian," which held 
that their extinction as a race of people was inevi- 
table due to the vicissitudes of land loss, warfare, 
alcoholism, and "the natural consequences of one 
race taking over another." The best that could be 
hoped for was to treat them humanely in their de- 
clining years. 

This, then, was the tense climate in western 
Indian country when Yellowstone National Park 
was born. As the following two decades unfolded, 
most of the tribes lost members and freedom until 
they were left with little more than sheer survival 
on their minds. A clandestine bolt on a hunting 
trip might see some Bannock horsemen breech the 
boundaries of the park, but they were quickly 
hounded back to their reservations. Little wonder 
that over the generations Indians felt unwelcome 
there, and perhaps even blocked their memories 
and folklore concerning the place. 

Organization of this Study 

As an amalgamation of primary research 
materials, library citations and possible narrative 
approaches for adoption by interpretive programs 
in Yellowstone National Park, this document is 
avoiding a topical itemization of the sites, dates, 
topics and underlying themes related to our 
overarching subject of Indians and the park. In- 
stead, we attempt to inject some narrative dyna- 
mism into our document by considering the mate- 
rials on this relationship from five major geo- 
graphical standpoints that more or less reflect his- 
torical experiences of the constituent Indian groups 
under study. 

Hence we will move around the park from 
the various directions. Starting with the East, in 
Chapter 1 we introduce the Crows, who claimed a 
sizeable eastern portion of the park proper as their 
aboriginal territory. We also offer unusual data that 
suggests a possible Kiowa connection to the re- 

gion, which is interesting given their close early 
historical friendship with the Crow. In Chapter 2 
we cover tribes such as the Blackfeet, Flathead 
and Kootenai who freely penetrated the park for 
hunting or raiding or resource-collecting. For pur- 
poses of convenience we also concentrate our data 
on buffalo-and-elk hunting related to the park in 
this chapter. 

We have placed the Shoshonean people 
known as Sheep ^?ters in Chapter 3. at the center 
of the document, because they are believed to be 
the only Indians who were full-time residents of 
highlands in the park. Here we have benefitted 
immeasurably from the unpublished field notes of 
Ake Hultkrantz, who flew from Sweden to serve 
as temporary consultant for our project. The tribes 
in Chapter 4 also share the habit of using the park 
region as a shortcut to buffalo hunting grounds to 
the east. But they have a historical affinity as well, 
for warriors from the Bannocks, Northern 
Shoshones, Nez Perces and Snake River Sheep 
Eaters struck against white settlers and were forced 
to defend themselves against white soldiers until 
their deaths or surrenders. 

The last profile, in Chapter 5, focuses on only 
one tribe, the Eastern or Wind River Shoshone. 
Like the Crow, their connection to the park is ter- 
ritorial — the bottom third of the plateau apparently 
lay within their traditional territory. In the same 
fashion that we summarized information on hunt- 
ing from other tribes in Chapter 2, here we com- 
pile our diverse tribal data on root-digging prac- 
tices, notably the camas root. We also seize the 
opportunity in this chapter to present data from 
other tribes on the controversy over Indian atti- 
tudes towards and uses of the park's thermal field. 

This document originally concluded with a 
separate binder entitled Concerns and Recommen- 
dations. The ten recommendations to park man- 
agers and interpreters related to issues concerning 
park policy and Indians, and representations of cul- 
tural and historical ties between Indian peoples and 
Yellowstone National Park. They are on file with 
the Branch of Cultural Resources (in the Division 
of Yellowstone Center for Resources) at the park. 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 






















!s ^\ 






Chapter I 

Occupants on 


This chapter introduces those American In- 
dian peoples whose cultural and historical inter- 
ests played out within and along the eastern por- 
tion of the greater Yellowstone Plateau. Of these 
distinctive ethnic groups on the east, certainly the 
most notable in Yellowstone National Park his- 
tory has been the modest-sized nation generally 
known as the Crow of today's south-central Mon- 
tana and northeastern Wyoming. But the fortunes 
of other Indian peoples also touched upon the east- 
ern and northeastern flanks of this mountainous 
region. Earliest would be the long sequence of 
little-known archaeological cultures whose activi- 
ties left scraps of evidence such as can be found 
in the densely compacted layers of Mummy Cave, 
just outside the park's eastern entrance. 

Of later encounters between historically 

Figure 1.1. Crow Indians at opening ceremony for 
East Entrance to Yellowstone National Park, Spring 
1927. White Man Runs Him (right) and Max Big 
Man (Photo courtesy of Montana Historical Society, 
Haynes Foundation Collection #H-27006, J.E. 
Haynes, Photographer). 

known Indians and the eastern Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park region we have scattered evidence from 
early diarists and native oral (and pictorial) tradi- 
tions. These nations include the Kiowa, Lakota 
and Cheyenne, who interacted with their neigh- 
boring tribes in both aggressive and amicable 
ways. Despite the fragmentary and inconclusive 
nature of this material, we should not exempt it 
from inclusion as we continue to assemble the bits 
and pieces that continue to surface each year and 
add to the slowly broadening story of 
Yellowstone's Indians. But the primary focus of 
this chapter will track the Crow as they used this 
landscape, virtually all of which, east of the Yel- 
lowstone River and down to the southern end of 
the Wind River basin, was recognized by the U.S. 
government until 1868 as a piece of their tradi- 
tional domain. 

Through the "Tipi's Doorway" 
to the Yellowstone Plateau 

Rising to a dark profile on the western rim 
of Bighorn Basin in northwestern Wyoming, the 
massive ranks of the Absaroka Mountains' front 
range face the dry basin and the rising sun. Loom- 
ing above their green heights, dark clouds prom- 
ise an interior of rushing streams, wooded draws 
and abundant wildlife. The semi-nomadic bands 
of Crow Indian kin units who seasonally traveled 
alongside and through these Abasarokas were 
undiscouraged by the seeming impenetrability of 
this buttress of the Yellowstone Plateau. At this 

Chapter I. Occupants on the East: Crow 35 

point it may be also important to stress that when 
we use the term "semi-nomadic," we refer to 
Plains Indian tribal movements that were rarely 
aimless wanderings, as early stereotypes of west- 
ern Indian life-ways were often characterized. 
These travellings were generally part of regular, 
seasonal circulations which coincided with re- 
peated stopovers at remembered locations for rea- 
sons of obtaining food or other material resources 
when they were most plentiful, as well as provid- 
ing opportunities for mobile bands to coalesce 
during key moments in the given tribe's social or 
ceremonial calendar. 

We have little hard data about when, where 
and why the first Crow Indians ventured into the 
Yellowstone Plateau, which may have occurred 
as early as the 17th century. We do know that in 
the tribe's pre-reservation heyday, a rather brief 
period between roughly 1620 and 1860, that branch 
of the tribe known as the Mountain Crow occu- 
pied northern Wyoming and southern Montana, 
and hunted east as far as the Powder River and 
west over to Livingston, Montana. As for their 
brethren who were known as the "Kicked In The 
Bellies" group, they preferred to winter down 
along the Wind River basin of south central Wyo- 
ming, and summer on the eastern flanks of the 
Bighorn Mountains up and down both present-day 
Wyoming and Montana (McCleary 1997:3). 

In the early 19th century we begin to gather 
enough documentary glimpses of Crow activity 
in the Yellowstone region to be able to reconstruct 
some semblance of their movements. And with a 
strong contingent of old Mountain Crow and 
Kicked in the Belly descendants still residing 
within the Pryor District of today's Crow Reser- 
vation — and its proximity to Yellowstone — it is 
no surprise that here one still can find the occa- 
sional individual with some knowledge of the 
North Fork of the Shoshone River region, the Ab- 
saroka Mountains, and the high country byways 
which once led Crows into the attractions of the 

Even today a few members of the old Moun- 
tain Crow division of the Crow tribe heading into 
the Yellowstone Plateau can recall stories and 
place-names that link the region to their cultural 
past. They can describe how their migratory fore- 
fathers of the early 19th century made the turn by 

the narrow gap that remains the home of their 
mythic Little People just south of present-day 
Pryor, Montana, then dragged their travois down 
the broadening valley through the Arrow moun- 
tains until they spilled out upon the flatlands. Soon 
they began to enter the immense. V-shaped river 
canyons which served as portals into the highlands 
of what would become Yellowstone National Park. 
Contemporary travelers on Wyoming's State Road 
1 20 heading south towards Cody cannot miss these 
openings that lead into the Shoshone National For- 
est, the Clarks Fork Canyon perhaps most dra- 
matic of them all. 

For contemporary Crow Indians driving on 
Alternate Route 14 towards the Yellowstone Pla- 
teau, a formation in the McCullough Peaks is still 
known for a famous Crow warrior called "A Bull 
Who Could Not Be Pushed Around," hence the 
site is referred to as "Push's Mountain" (Paatchish 
Awaxaawe). And both of those roads soon bring 
you close to the major landmark and favorite Crow 
vision-questing spot near the present-day town of 
Cody — the "Heart Mountain" (Awaxaamnaase). 
In older times, however, the Crows knew this 
promontory as "The Foretop's Father" 
(Ihkapiliilapxe) because a Crow man named Fore- 
top once fasted up there. It is said that at one time 
two points jutted from the crest of Heart Moun- 
tain, but "an earthquake or something" destroyed 
the one on the west side, according to one Crow 
consultant (for pronunciation guide to Crow words 
see McCleary 1997:xxi-xxii). 

The story behind this alternative place-name 
for Heart Mountain tells how this particular Crow 
vision-quester was instructed during his fast that 
he would live as long as the two points remained 
on the mountain. Thereafter The Foretop became 
renowned for his intense combats with Blackfeet, 
as part of the Crow effort to push them back into 
Canada. But after he was killed up in the northland 
and his people returned home, they discovered that 
there had been a big landslide on one Hank of Heart 
Mountain, leaving only the fan-like uplift that re- 
sembles the distinctive brushed-up forelock so as- 
sociated throughout the Plains with Crow iden- 
tity that it is instantly recognizable on the native 
"ledger art" produced by many different tribes. 
Afterwards his people commemorated that moun- 
tain as being the "medicine father" who had 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

"adopted" The Foretop during his vision and 
helped him become such a successful warrior 
(GBT Interview, July 16, 1995). 

Another important Crow historical site lies 
just to the west of Heart Mountain, the creek near 
Rattlesnake Mountain where the famous 19th cen- 
tury Crow chief named Blackfeet, or "Sits in the 
Middle of the Land," is said to have died in battle 
in 1877 and also to have been enshrouded atop a 
traditional burial scaffold. A little farther up from 
the Red Hills (Shichiishe) is the location known 
to whites as Sunlight Basin. According to the 
Crow, however, this was called "Yellow Crane's 
Land" (Apitshiilishisawe), named for one of their 
chiefs who regularly led his band there to hunt 
elk, deer, bighorns and even buffalo in the winter- 
time. South of present-day Cody is Carter Moun- 
tain, what Crows call the "White Bear Mountain" 
for the grizzly variety, or the "Bear With White 
on the Tips of the Fur" (daxpitcheeiidakeechiate). 
Facing directly west from Cody one cannot miss 
the great canyon of the Shoshone River, or "Stink- 
ing Water River" to the Crows (Aashiilitche). But 
in the Crow imagination this avenue into the Yel- 
lowstone Plateau was also likened to the east-fac- 
ing side of one of their buffalo-hide lodges, hence 
their old name for Shoshone Pass (between Cedar 
and Rattlesnake mountains), "Like a Tipi's Door- 
way" (Biliiliche), which reminds one of the anal- 
ogy that struck Jedediah S. Smith in the autumn 
of 1829, when he described this location as the 
"back door to the country divines preach about" 
(quoted in Bearss 1970:71). 

Passing in the shadow of Cedar Mountain 
(Awaxammaalahkape) and through this narrow 
"doorway" one shortly encounters today's Buf- 
falo Bill Reservoir, about thirty-seven miles east 
of Yellowstone National Park. Looking down into 
the gorge's turbulent waters, a Crow consultant 
pointed to a rim "just below the dam there" over- 
looking the rapids where the most courageous 
Crow fasters sought supernatural powers from the 
dangerous "beings in the water" 
(Bimmuummaakoole). Before the creation of the 
reservoir, according to our consultant, this flat 
along the Stinking Water was where "the Sheep 
Eaters used to camp," referring in this case, inter- 
estingly enough, not to the Shoshoneans but to a 
branch of the Crow tribe known as "Those Who 

Eat Bighorn Sheep" (Iisaxpuatduushe). 

That these well- watered terraces at the junc- 
ture of today's North and South Forks of the 
Shoshone River were popular with early Crows 
seems to be corroborated by statements from early 
Indians and whites alike. Said the great Crow 
Chief Sits In The Middle of the Land in 1873, "On 
Sheep Mountain [just southwest of the reservoir] 
white men come; they are my friends; they marry 
Crow women, they have children with them; the 
men talk Crow. When we come from hunting we 
get off at their doors, and they give us something 
to eat" (House Executive Document No. 89, 43rd 
Congress, 1st Session, p. 28). Further evidence of 
the Crow sense that this area was "the Indian's 
side of the Yellowstone" is found in comments by 
one "Mea-de-sesh, which, in American, means 
Two-bellied Woman," (known elsewhere as sim- 
ply Two Belly) to a man identified only as Allen 
in a letter to the Bozeman Avant Courier newspa- 
per (June 19, 1879, p. A2). " My people are hun- 
gry," Two Belly complained. "They want to go to 
the Musselshell to get buffalo to eat. White men 
drive cattle from Sheep Mountain through the cen- 
ter of my reservation. I do not want it done. They 
drive all the game out of the country. If they cross 
the Yellowstone up Sheep Mountain I want them 
driven back." And on September 6, 1808, George 
Drouillard, a fur trader, hunter and interpreter for 
the Lewis and Clark expedition, drew a map for 
William Clark and offered some verbal notes 
which Clark scribbled down. At the convergence 
of these forks of the Shoshone, or "Stinking" 
River, said Drouillard, "Ap-sha-roo-kee band of 
Crow Indian winter here where there is an abun- 
dance of dry grass on which their horses live dur- 
ing the winter. . .amount to 280 lodges of dressed 
leather or 2,240" (Skarsten 1966:265). 

Our major Crow consultant's maternal 
grandfather, Comes Up Red (Aliikusshiihishish), 
had been born near here, at the "Place of Chiefs" 
(Ammacheeitche — near present-day Meeteetse, 
Wyoming, and the origin of that name). A mem- 
ber of the Crow sub-group known as the "Outer 
Edge People" (Ammitaaashe), Comes Up Red was 
quite familiar with this reservoir area and showed 
it to his grandson, who recalled: 

I think there was a trading post on the south 
side right about where that mountain 

Chapter I. Occupants on the East: Crow 37 

Figure 1.2. Crow consultant GBT, pointing to 
Shoshone River gorge, site of supernatural beings, 

comes right by the river there. There was 
an old cabin that was still standing. See 
those two peaks over there, just below that 
there was an old cabin right at the edge of 
the lake. It is probably in the lake now. It 
was standing in 1948, when my grandfa- 
ther said that a man named Farthest Up 
The River had his camp there. . .There was 
always a trader here, ever since the early 
1800s... my grandfather said that the white 
people first came into this area right here. 
They [his grandfather's people, the politi- 
cal band known as "When you Shoot an 
Arrow at a Buffalo and You Hit a Rib and 
it Ricochets Off" (Shiiptache)] knew more 
about white people than the rest of the 
Crow tribe. So they learned to speak En- 
glish and learned to adapt to the white 
man's ways quicker... They were always 
the translators when they negotiate for 
treaties... they first traded with the trad- 
ers, and then the trappers. So they had 
more contact with the white people. . .They 
intermarried with the Shoshones and were 
real friendly with them, whereas the other 
bands didn't get along with the 
Shoshones.... [They wintered at this spot 
because] there was hardly any snow on the 
ground in winter time because of the 
winds. There were a lot of elk and deer 
and bighorn sheep |GBT Interview July 

Past the Stinking Water gorge the North Fork 
o\ the Shoshone valley opens into the funnel that 
narrows just past present-day Wapiti, as the river- 

side roadway followed by ancient Indians and 
today's tourists alike climbs through pine forest. 
Driving through this region towards the park our 
key Crow consultant recalled his family carrying 
on an entrepreneurial relationship with Anglo- 
Americans. As a boy, between the age of eight 
and thirteen he wore Indian regalia and danced 
for tourists outside Cody's Irma Hotel, many of 
them bound for Yellowstone National Park. Then, 
on their own recreational drives into the park 
proper, his family often enjoyed a rest stop just 
outside the park's eastern entrance: 

. . .the Crows used to come to Pahaska Tee- 
pee. The old owner way back in the '40s 
and '50s was real friendly with the Crows 
They used to come and he would feed them 
for free. He had a big dining hall for his 
employees. If you came in there at lunch- 
time or in the evenings, they would feed 
you for free and then he would ask them 
to dance for the tourists. I don't know if 
they ever do that [any more]. That was way 
in the '50s. All of the people in Pryorused 
to know him... He even had an Indian 
name [GBT Interview July 16. 1995]. 

Once he was approaching the park perim- 
eter, this consultant noticed familiar places, as well 
as plants which his family would gather on the 
way. However, when it comes to understanding 
how the mobile groups of Plains Indians like the 
Crows identified and utilized the natural resources 
they found on the Yellowstone Plateau it may be 
useful to make a slight distinction between those 
floral, faunal and geological resources which were 
an ostensible object of their movements, and any 
natural resources which they recognized en route 
and took advantage of along the way. At a spot 
where the road cuts between two angled ridges, 
for instance, our consultant remembered that his 
parents referred to this spot as "Buffalo Fence," 
or "Boundaries for a |old time] Buffalo Jump" 
(Binnaxche Bishee), which commemorated how 
the narrowing ridge lines resembled the drive lines 
that were demarcated by rock piles or dead-fall 
fencing into which Crows in the pre-horse days 
would drive buffalo, prior to crippling them over 
a sheer cliff or trapping them for easy shooting in 
a box canyon or makeshift corral. Recalling this 
old place-name also caused the consultant to re- 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

call an incident related by his father which took 
place deeper within the park proper: 

My grandfather told me one time they were 
chasing some Bannocks. I don't know 
what the reason was, but I guess they 
wanted to kill them. . .and the Bannock got 
into the Firehole River. They stayed there 
and they kept chasing them. When they 
finally came out, the horses' feet were real 
soft from staying in that water. So that was 
kind of a trail that they used to hide their 
tracks. You could take that and get out of 
the mountains. They called Firehole River 
the "Long Opening in the Ground" 
{Hachkaawuushe) . . .like an entranceway 
to a cave [GBT Interview July 16, 1995]. 

As for the foraging for plants that took place 
en route from the east towards Yellowstone Lake, 
this consultant also pointed to the broomweed that 

was in flower at that season of our field trip, what 
the Crows call "What the Buffalo Won't Eat" 
(Bisheewaaluushisee) [Gutierrezia sarothrae], 
whose dried leaves and flowers Crow people still 
store in jars in kitchen cabinets for brewing teas 
for any number of purposes, from sore muscles to 
helping pregnant women have easier childbirth 
(McCleary 1995:2). Other plants which this con- 
sultant recalled collecting en route to and within 
the park included horsemint (Bahpuushe) 
[Monarda species], which warriors who had 
counted coup on the warpath would make into 
crowns for wearing on their victorious parades 
through their home camps, the sweet grass which 
was used for incense (Bachiiate) [Savastana 
odorata], and highly prized forms of tree lichen, 
such as the compact "yellow plant" 
{Baaapdashiile) [Everina vulpina], serving both 
as headache medicine and perfume, and the "black 

Figure 1.3. Crow women picking berries, 1913. Location unknown. (Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Institution, 
National Anthropological Archives #79-8487.) 

Chapter I. Occupants on the East: Crow 39 

tree lichen," whose hair-like tufts were likened 
by Crows to a buffalo's beard [Aletoriafremontii]. 
Other northwest tribes, such as the Kootenai and 
Nez Perce, also prized this particular plant, for 
flavoring their boiled camas mush, and as a cura- 
tive for upset stomach, indigestion and diarrhea 
(Hart 1976: 11). 

But the Crow also collected minerals in the 
area. While our principal consultant described only 
generally how Crows in the East Yellowstone area 
"would also get tipi poles and arrowheads... and 
Bear Root," specifying a "certain place near the 
Firehole River [where they may have obtained] 
obsidian or chert or something like that," he was 
more specific when it came to "paint": 

There is a bubbling, the Painted Pot, or 
something like that, that is what it is 
called... Anyway, it is here in the Yellow- 
stone Park. It is dark brown when it is bub- 
bling, when it is boiling and bubbling. If 
you get it out, as soon as it is dry it is pure 
white. That is what they used to refinish 
the white buckskin. When my mother was 
still alive that is where she got hers. We 
harvested certain things here. That is why 
they would come. It is easily 
accessible. . ..we just used a coffee can, and 
then we would just dip it out. We had to 
ask permission to do that. They finally 
knew us, because we were there constantly 
[GBT Interview July 16, 1995]. 

This anecdote of gathering thermal residue 
for a whitening agent for hides echoes a fuller 
notation of such practices by the Wind River 
Shoshone. In the report of Captain William A. 
Jones of the Corps of Engineers, who followed 
the Shoshone River route into the park in late sum- 
mer, 1873, one reads: 

The material employed [for paint] was 
usually an ocherous ore, and much of the 
earthy hematite from the Green Spring lo- 
cality on Pelican Creek was collected and 
used for this purpose. The green, slimy cryp- 
togamic vegetation from the same spot was 
also daubed in stripes and patches on the 
horses in some instances [Jones 1875:278). 

And curious speculation about Yellowstone 
as an inspiration for Indian artistry comes from 
the writings of Joseph Dixon, chronicler of the 

"council" expeditions funded by Rodman 
Wanamaker between 1908-09. Intended to recon- 
cile former warring tribes under the banner of 
American citizenship, the highly-publicized 
Wanamaker events blended the collecting of nos- 
talgic memoirs by battle-scarred veterans of the 
Indian wars, solemn secular rites of inter-tribal 
peace and friendship, and posed photographs 
which evoked both the "noble savage" and Van- 
ishing Indian images. Hypothetical and romantic 
as Dixon's following words sound, at least they 
represent a rare example of idealizing rather than 
demonizing the Indian's relationship to the Yel- 
lowstone thermal field, and therefore are worth 
recording as one type of Indian representation as- 
sociated with the park. At one point Dixon specu- 
lates that the Plains Indian's "colour scheme" 
might have originated: 

...with the dazzling array of colours, be- 
yond the genius of the proudest palette, to 
be found in the marvelous formations that 
surround the great geysers of the Yellow- 
stone, colours more exquisitely beautiful 
than the supremest refinement of art. Ev- 
ery-whither down the cone-shaped 
mounds are tiny steam-heated rivulets in- 
terlacing each other, edged with gold and 
vermilion and turquoise and orange and 
opal. Indian trails have been found also 
interlacing each other all through this won- 
derland. Deep fuirows in the grassy slopes 
of these ancient footprints are still plainly 
visible [Dixon 1925:22]. 

To help us imagine how the Crow parties 
followed their old trails into the Yellowstone 
mountains, we might call up the memoir of early 
Crow Reservation homesteader, Frank Tschirgi, 
who watched the tribe's extended families load 
up for their summer treks into the nearby high 
country. (This description also resonates with the 
standing stockpile of used tipi poles which one 
can still see today in a grove just north of the Soda 
Butte Creek road in the park's Lamar Valley): 

They used to move from their reservation 
or winter range in long caravans. I have 
seen these caravans a mile long. Upon ar- 
riving at the foot of the mountains they 
would unpack and discard their tepee 
poles. They packed their equipment on the 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

backs of ponies and climbed the moun- 
tain trails on horseback. The discarded 
poles left at the foot of the trail accumu- 
lated from year to year, and although they 
were discolored by smoke, they were used 
by the early settlers for various purposes, 
such as roofing and corral material 
[Tschirgi 1904:31]. 

Background on the Crow 

Who were these Plains Indians named Crows 
and how did they come to know and claim the 
territory that fell into the region of today's Yel- 
lowstone National Park? An offshoot of older hor- 
ticultural ethnic groups who had lived along the 
Middle Missouri in present-day North Dakota, the 
most recently proposed scenario for Crow 
ethnogenesis in the west has these native pioneers 
striking out from the region of present-day North 
Dakota in two waves, about 125 years apart. 

First to venture west were the so-called 
Mountain Crow around A.D. 1550, to be followed 
about 125 years later by the River Crow. It was 
the combination, then, of these Siouan-speaking 
divisions and their constituent bands and cross- 
cutting clans, which, say non-Indian scholars, pro- 
duced the tribe whom the French first encountered 
in the 1740s and named the "beaux hommes" 
(handsome men), or the "gens de corbeaux," from 
a mistranslation of one of their own self identifi- 
cations, "children of the large-beaked bird" 
(Apsdalooke) (summarized in Voget 1984:3-10; 
Hoxie 1995:36-42). This would have been shortly 
after the Crow had acquired horses. 

But that is the non-Indian's story. Among the 
Crow themselves one hears a more complicated 
set of explanations for how they become a dis- 
crete ethnic group on the Plains. One of the most 
common accounts tells of a wandering tribe who 
eventually came under the leadership of two broth- 
ers, No Intestines and Red Scout. In one variant, 
when they both vision-quested together at Devil's 
Lake, North Dakota, No Intestines was instructed 
by his vision to search for the seeds of the sacred 
tobacco, while Red Scout was told to settle his 
followers along the Missouri River and grow corn 
(McCleary 1997:16-18). As No Intestines led his 
people on their wanderings for the promised seeds, 

the migrants experienced all the corners and cli- 
mates of the great plains. Some versions of the 
story include possible early knowledge of the Yel- 
lowstone National Park area, for it is said that af- 
ter finding the area around Alberta, Canada, too 
cold, they headed south, passed the Great Salt 
Lake, and then headed to the east before swing- 
ing back north into Montana, "passing through the 
place 'where there is fire,' perhaps Yellowstone 
National Park or a fiery coal pit" (Voget 1984:7), 
which another respected historian of the Crow 
calls "land-of-the-burning-ground" (Bradley 
1991:42) or "Land of Vapors" {Awe Puawishe). 

Finally, at Cloud Peak, the highest crest in 
the Bighorns, which the Crow call the "Extended 
Mountain" {Awaxaawakussawishe) and which 
they consider the center of the world, the fourth 
of No Intestines' visions told him that he would 
notice the sacred tobacco seeds because they 
would be twinkling like stars. That was when the 
Crows "made their home in Montana and Wyo- 
ming, with the Bighorn Mountains as their heart- 
land" (McCleary 1997:18). 

Once in place, these newcomers began to de- 
velop their regional subdivisions, some of which 
probably reflected earlier, historical or social sub- 
groups within the Crow tribal fold. Of the three 
social divisions which became more defined in 
the new landscape, the second-largest, the River 
Crow (Binneessiippeele, or "Those Who Live 
Amongst The River Banks"), probably had the 
least cultural knowledge of or subsistence inter- 
est in the Yellowstone Plateau and its environs. 
While on occasion their fairly independent village 
groups or sub-bands might range along their south- 
ern boundary, the Yellowstone River, they were 
generally to be found farther north, all the way up 
to the Milk River (McCleary 1997:2). 

Rather, it was members of the tribe's largest 
division, popularly known as the Mountain Crow, 
who considered — and one still hears the claim — 
the region near present-day Yellowstone National 
Park as part of their aboriginal territory. Among 
some older Crow people themselves, these Moun- 
tain Crow are still referred to as Ashalahd, or 
"Where There Are Many Lodges." As for the 
Mountain Crow offshoot which coalesced as the 
tribe's distinctive third group during the histori- 
cal period, they are formally called "Home Away 

Chapter I. Occupants on the East: Crow 41 

From The Center" (Ammitaalasshe), although a 
more common and colloquial designation is 
"Kicked In The Bellies" (Eelalapiio), a name 
which derives from an incident when the Crows 
first encountered horses and one member of this 
rather large band was kicked by a colt (McCleary 

These three divisions, then, make up the 
Plains Indian ethnic group which the tribe self- 
describes more .precisely in most formal settings 
as Apsdalooke (or "Children of the Large-Beaked 
Bird"), a translation affirmed by most Crow schol- 
ars (Medicine Crow 1992:2; Hoxie 1989:122; 
Lowie 1956:3; Frey 1987: 1 1 )— all the while, how- 
ever, referring to themselves in private conversa- 
tions among themselves as simply Biiluuke, which 
means "Our Side" (McCleary 1996:1-3). 

There is some confusion regarding the ori- 
gin of the Crow name that Lloyd (Mickey) Old 
Coyote clarifies: 

...our tribal name in our language is 
Apsaalooka — of which there are at least 
sixteen different spellings. French trap- 
pers, hearing that we were children of a 
large-beaked bird, gave our tribe the nick- 
name of Crow, something which we at first 
resented but in later years have accepted. 
In reality the large-beaked bird, now ex- 
tinct, belonged to the raven family, a bird 
having a long split tail, although some 
white authors have mistakenly said that 
the bird was the sparrow hawk. [Old Coy- 
ote and Smith 1993, emphasis ours] 

During the Crows' very earliest negotiations 
with the white man, band affinities for certain habi- 
tats would influence which leaders could speak 
authoritatively for which territorial claims (for a 
useful historical overview of Crow association 
with the Yellowstone Valley, see Heidenreich 
1985). Hence it is not surprising that in regard to 
their interests along the eastern flank of Yellow- 
stone National Park one would hear Mountain 
Crow spokespeople like the famous Sits In The 
Middle of the Land articulating the Crow ties to 
that particular landscape. In name if not in social 
reality, these divisional distinctions have contin- 
ued through the 20th century, as outsiders learned 
when the Crow factions who were bitterly opposed 
over the sale of land rights for Yellowtail Dam on 

the Bighorn River in the 1960s became publically 
identified as Mountain and River Crows. 

"Better Than A Book": 
Earlier Natives of Yellowstone 

Long before the eastern migrants who came 
to be known as the Crow favored the "doorway" 
outside of Cody as their avenue into the Yellow- 
stone Plateau, older generations of native Ameri- 
cans felt at home in this valley that led in and out 
of Yellowstone National Park. We are somewhat 
familiar with these unnamed native occupants 
thanks to a remarkable episode in American ar- 
chaeology which captured the world's imagina- 
tion over thirty years ago. 

In the winter of 1959-60 the newly hired di- 
rector of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in 
Cody, Wyoming, an art historian and writer named 
Harold McCracken, went to Washington for a talk 
with the well-known Smithsonian Institution ex- 
pert on Plains Indian prehistory, Waldo R. Wedel. 
Based on his excavations a decade before in the 
Cody vicinity, Wedel confided to McCracken that 
there was a good chance that promising Indian 
sites, with very old remains revealing permanent 
occupation at higher elevations, might be found 
deeper in the Absaroka range. Two years later, 
hopping rides on fire-fighting helicopters, 
McCracken cast his eye over the inaccessible high 
country west of Cody. With the help of a local 
trapper, hunter and amateur archaeologist and his- 
torian named Bob Edgar, the two men spotted a 
few old hunting grounds and campsites, includ- 
ing one dauntingly elevated elk pasture which they 
found to contain arrowheads that Edgar guessed 
probably dated to 5000 B.P. But it was actually 
using ground transportation and driving along the 
easily accessible U.S. Highway 20 only twelve 
miles from the Yellowstone National Park's East 
Entrance that enabled Edgar to make the discov- 
ery that would put the Absaroka Mountains on the 
map of America's prehistory. 

In mid-July. 1962. Edgar pulled into the 
northerly road shoulder and then strolled about 
forty feet through brush to a natural rock shelter 
that overlooked the highway and the North Fork 
of the Shoshone River that raced alongside it. Of- 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Figure 1.4. View of cave floor during the excavation. MS 29 ofCL #1-2-3, 1963 (Photo courtesy of Buffalo Bill 
Historical Center Library). 

fering natural protection for generations of white 
trappers, road crews and exploring kids of fami- 
lies visiting Yellowstone National Park, the cliff 
face protected a forty-by-eighty foot patch of 
ground. Edgar found the dirt kicked up and the 
walls gouged with graffiti. To one side of the shel- 
ter, vandals had recently dug deeply enough to 
produce a heap of discarded dirt. No sooner had 
he hunkered down to drag his fingers through the 
pile than Edgar turned up a fragment of an arrow 
shaft, apparently sliced off by a shovel. Lashed to 
one end was a side-notched projectile point which 
had been chipped from agatized wood around a 
thousand years earlier. 

With an excavating permit shortly in hand, 
McCracken and Edgar staked their scientific claim 
to the site. As they peeled back the floorings of 
the cave, in the third cultural layer down from the 
top they came upon a human foot, and soon they 

had exposed an entire individual, a male buried in 
a knees-to-chest position who was wrapped in a 
garment made of mountain sheep skin. This or- 
ganic material produced a carbon- 14 date of about 
A.D. 724. While this discovery, which gave the 
site its popular name, was certainly spectacular, 
the greater importance of the rock shelter was only 
revealed over time. 

During the winter of 1965, McCracken con- 
tacted the Smithsonian Institution to find an ar- 
chaeologist to oversee the final excavation. For- 
tunately he found Wilfred Husted, an archaeolo- 
gist seasoned by excavating caves in the nearby 
Bighorn Canyon region. As work progressed grid 
by grid and inch by inch, every portion of the en- 
tire floor fill of Mummy Cave was meticulously 
scraped up and sifted, with samples stored for fu- 
ture analysis. The crews moved ever downward 
through evidence of earlier river beds and ever 

Chapter I. Occupants on the East: Crow 43 

Figure 1.5. Profile of human 
occupation layers at Mummy 
Cave. Projectile points 
change from Paleo-Indian 
lanceolate forms at deepest 
layers up through side- 
notched and then stemmed 
forms. (Courtesy of Buffalo 
Bill Historical Center.) 

- 38 AD 1580 •- 90 

- 36 A.O. 720 •- 1 10 

- 34 100 " 150 8 C 

- 32 870: 135 BC 

- 30 2470 ! 150 BC 

28 3305 =140 BC 

24 3440 : 140 8 C 

21 3660 t 280 B.C. 

20 3850 ! 120 8.C 


18 5190 : 170 BC 


16 5680 :I70 BC 

- 14 6020 t2l0BC 

- 12 6150 JI30B.C 

10 6790 -'lAOB C 

- 4 7280 » 150 BC 

older campsites with their fire hearths, plant and 
animal remains and associated human artifacts of 
stone and bone. Before their excavations ceased 
the archaeologists had penetrated 337: feet into 
the ground. Their work had distinguished 38 cul- 
ture layers and produced a chronology of 26 car- 
bon-dated samples. They had established clearly 

that the most recent Indian builders of fire and 
cookers of meats had camped there around A.D, 
1580, but that the oldest they had identified (from 
Culture Layer No. 35) had used the shelter around 
7280 B.C. This meant that for over 9.000 almost- 
continuous years the sun had warmed American 
Indians who slept, ate and socialized beneath the 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

protective west-facing ceiling of this large, natu- 
ral room. When Bob Edgar reflects back on the 
experience of digging back through time, he says 
it was "better than a book." 

Since the report on Mummy Cave was pub- 
lished in 1978 there have been attempts to revisit 
the large amounts of data collected in during the 
expedition [in much the same way that Nevada's 
remarkably parallel site, Spirit Cave, has recently 
undergone reanalysis, see Archaeology Magazine, 
September/October 1996]. Even though the origi- 
nal 24 layers or "lenses" of occupation identified 
by Bob Edgar and his crew were increased, upon 
more refined analysis by Wilfred Husted, to 38 
layers — and in the corrective process reversing 
McCracken's approach of counting from the top 
down to starting instead with the oldest bottom 
level upwards, as was approved U.S. government 
procedure established during the River Basin Sur- 
veys — it is the opinion of Susan Hughes that even 
this "might be a conservative estimate." Indeed, 
she points to the level 3 identified as representing 
a single occupational episode by both McCracken/ 
Edgar and Husted as "actually a very thick layer 
composed of four or five thinner layers" (Hughes 

In her 1988 and 1994 syntheses and updates 
on the Mummy Cave trove, Hughes reports on a 
host of refined observations and opens up new 
vistas for laboratory analysis. Recent work on the 
burial itself, for instance, suggested that it was a 
male between the ages of thirty-five and forty, who 
stood about 5 feet 5 inches tall, who had recently 
eaten cooked food, and who was probably buried 
in late spring. Furthermore, the placement of a ram 
sheep skull placed upside down near a line of stone 
slabs has been speculatively associated with a 
complex of hunting rituals found among other 
Rocky Mountain high-altitude dwellers. The arti- 
fact assemblages also suggest varied cultural af- 
filiations, with the majority of projectile point 
styles associated with long periods of sustained 
occupation in northwestern Wyoming, but also 
with the presence of materials such as steatite 
beads, harpoon tips, fishnet weights and compos- 
ite cane arrows which are more commonly linked 
to the Great Basin traditions. As new approaches 
in "behavioral archaeology" tend to worry less 
about building iron-clad chronologies, and to look 

instead at how modern laboratory techniques such 
as pollen analysis can help us reconstruct the hu- 
man activities at such occupation sites, the rich 
data from Mummy Cave will remain a "book" 
about the deep history of Native American cul- 
tures related to the Yellowstone Plateau which will 
be reread and rewritten. 

Zones of Power: 
Crows in the Thermal Field 

When a contemporary, traditionally minded 
Crow arrives at the shores of Yellowstone Lake 
today, it is not uncommon for him to light a ciga- 
rette, puff four times, and to pray. In the 1930s 
and '40s, according to one of our consultants, a 
recreational drive into the park would continue 
on to the geyser region, and this act of supplica- 
tion would be repeated. When one asks about the 
older Crow reactions to the geysers, it is predict- 
able that consultants today are well versed in the 
non-Indian argument that their forebears were ter- 
rified of the hot, spouting and noisy waters. Re- 
garding this picture of Indians cowering in fright 
at the geysers as a stereotype which brands ear- 
lier Indians — and by extension, themselves — as 
superstitious or simple-minded, today's native 
peoples often deny that their ancestors harbored 
such feelings of terror. Despite the fact that the 
argument about Indian abhorrence and avoidance 
of Yellowstone's geysers is distorted and one-di- 
mensional, and that it has been strongly challenged 
by a Yellowstone Association-funded brief to the 
contrary prepared by Joseph Weixelman (1992) 
and to be summarized in Chapter 5, it remains to 
be clarified in this chapter just what were the com- 
plexities of Crow (and Kiowa) attitudes towards 
a cluster of environmental features that anybody 
might regard as highly unusual, obviously vola- 
tile, geologically procreative and potentially dan- 

After more than a century of their being dis- 
couraged from maintaining an on-going relation- 
ship with the hunting grounds and the possibly 
religious areas of the park, it is not surprising that 
our data on Crow attitudes towards and usage of 
its thermal features is thin. However, some glim- 
mers of such information can be teased from the 

Chapter I. Occupants on the East: Crow 45 

literature, as well as from the memories of living 
Crows once their distrust is overcome about why 
an institution that once discouraged them from 
using the region would now want to learn about 
their traditions regarding it. The investigators of 
this report first ran across Crow attitudes towards 
the geyser region in the mid 1960s, from the mem- 
oirs of a River Crow named Two Leggings. When 
this old warrior described his youthful war par- 
ties to the Dutch-born ethnographer William 
Wildschut in the 1920s, he recalled one trip into 
the Yellowstone National Park area. Upon ap- 
proaching one hot spring near Yellowstone Lake 
they guessed at first that the bubbling sounds and 
smoky emissions were issuing from an enemy 
camp. Instead, they were astonished to find the 
boiling waters, and Two Leggings added that his 
men "did not like the place" (Nabokov 1967:20). 
Here we must also remember that being a mem- 
ber of the more easterly, River Crow division of 
the tribe, it is understandable why Two Leggings 
might not have been more familiar with the vol- 
canic field. 

About seventy years later, when Joseph 
Weixelman sought to test the thesis put forward 
by the Swedish historian of religions, Ake 
Hultkrantz, to the effect that most Indians were 
afraid of Yellowstone's geysers, he struggled to 
obtain additional Crow testimony. Unfortunately, 
according to the head of the Crow Cultural Com- 
mission at the time, John Pretty On Top, the 1989 
airing of a segment on public television's Sesame 
Street program had featured the program's anthro- 
pomorphic creature, "Big Bird," visiting the Crow 
Reservation. Many Crows were so insulted by the 
representation of their community on the show that 
they suspended communications with outside in- 
vestigators. Nonetheless, Weixelman was able to 
chat with Pretty On Top, who claimed that the 
geysers and hot springs held little terror for the 
Crow; he even had heard of elders who recalled 
traditions of the region involving use of the hot 
waters, but this was not the time for further inves- 

When it came to recalling personal ties to 
the Yellowstone region, however, it was often 
common for 19th century Crows to think person- 
ally rather than genetically, to consider this or that 
place through identification with specific individu- 

als and specific experiences, rather than by cov- 
ering an entire geographical region with some 
overarching characterization or generalization or 
even proprietary claims. Hence, to many Crows — 
Mountain Crows especially — with personal ties 
to the generations of their late 19th century ances- 
tors, when contemplating the entire Yellowstone 
National Park region and its unique landscape the 
name of one deceased Crow often sprang to mind. 
This man was known as The Fringe, and the stories 
of his powers arouse awe and respect to this day. 

This was the case when author Frank Bird 
Linderman asked Plenty Coups, himself a Moun- 
tain Crow leader, "Who was then the most pow- 
erful Wise One in your own time?" Almost im- 
mediately Plenty Coups thought of The Fringe, 
and he told Linderman the story of his famous 
fast on an island in the middle of the healing 
"medicine water" near the Wind River 
{Hutchaashe). The Fringe had reached the island 
"by walking a pole which two friends helped him 
place from the shore" and then climbed a nearby 
hilltop to make his fasting bed. His friends no- 
ticed that on the third day of his vision-quest he 
had disappeared, and that on the fourth he sud- 
denly showed up back on the shore. During that 
interval The Fringe had visited the home of a spirit 
who had given him a very special, water-con- 
nected medicine. Through this experience he re- 
ceived the special powers to heal wounds and 
thereby to possess many horses in payment from 
his patients, powers from the supernatural Otter 
and White Bear who had appeared to him. There- 
after, Plenty Coups told Linderman, ". . .when we 
passed the Medicine Water, we each dropped in a 
bead, or something else very pretty, so that the 
[dream] Father of The Fringe, and his Woman, 
might have them" (Linden-nan 1962:299-307). 

From one of his key informants. Gray Bull, 
the anthropologist Robert Lowie obtained this 
individual's Crow name. Dap 'ic (or. in current or- 
thography, Daappish), which he also translated 
as "The Fringe." In addition, Lowie learned that 
he was reputedly the most renowned of the cat- 
egory of akuuwashdiive (in current orthography, 
akuuwashdiiua), or "wound doctors" (Lowie 
1922:376-378). During this project we collected 
additional information about this healer, whose 
unique association with Yellowstone National Park 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

will be mentioned shortly (GBT Interview, July 
16, 1995). Our consultant claimed The Fringe was 
a Mountain Crow belonging to Long Horse's band, 
who was born about 1820 and derived his name 
from the long fringes that hang down from an old- 
time, rawhide headdress ornament. His death came 
in the 1860s, during a smallpox epidemic, when 
he refrained from using his curative powers to heal 
himself; our consultant speculated that this was 
because he did not want to live with a scarred and 
ugly face. 

To obtain his powers from the "water beast," 
our consultant said that The Fringe was one of 
those courageous fasters who sought power at 
present-day Shoshone Dam. Although his vision 
creature did emerge at that time, it was not until a 
later fast at Thermopolis hot springs that he reap- 
peared and told The Fringe, "you have shown me 
your fortitude, and your willingness to suffer, so I 
am going to give you my powers." According to 
this account, The Fringe would partially immerse 
his patients in the water so that an otter, his medi- 
cine helper and the only water-dwelling animal 
considered by Crows to be beneficial towards 
humans, could swim around and bite the wounds 
and heal them. 

In one of his feats, The Fringe was even able 
to walk on water. In addition, he convened with 
the chief of all water beasts at an underwater lodge 
at the headwaters of the Missouri River. Two other 
stories connected with The Fringe revealed his 
remarkable gifts for restoring injured warriors on 
the brink of death. According to our consultant, it 
was the preexisting fact of such powers which 
caused Crows to lend credence to what they heard 
from the first Catholic priests to arrive in their 
country: ". . .they told them about these things, and 
they could draw parallels about Fringe and what 
happened. Fringe was actually alive at that time. 
When they were told about Jesus walking on the 
water, they thought he was another great medi- 
cine man." 

As with our project narrative, most written 
accounts have The Fringe's most famous fasting 
episode taking place at Thermopolis, and there- 
fore only providing an analogous example of the 
greater complexity of Crow reactions to thermal 
areas within the park. But at least one other story 
associated with The Fringe does place him 

squarely in the park. This is a narrative which came 
to light when another old 19th century Crow war- 
rior, actually a competitor of Two Leggings in the 
search for war honors, was interviewed about 1915 
for photographer-author Edward S. Curtis' volume 
on the Crow, and their conversation turned to the 
subject of the Yellowstone geysers. 

The Crow narrator for Curtis was Hunts-To- 
Die, a Mountain Crow who was born around 1838 
and knew the northern perimeter of the park well, 
having fasted as a young man on Red Lodge Creek 
in the Beartooth range (Curtis 1909:20 1 ). With the 
aid of a Carlisle-educated, mixed-blood Crow in- 
terpreter named Alexander Upshaw, Hunts-To-Die 
talked with the Curtis fieldworker, Fred Meyer, 
about the man he called simply, "Fringes." Al- 
though after Frederick Webb Hodge edited Curtis' 
original writings for his 20-volume work, The 
American Indian, this portion was not included in 
the published volume on the Crow, one copy of 
the original typescript which is found in the Seaver 
Center Library at the Los Angeles County Mu- 
seum of Natural History included the following 
fragments regarding the Yellowstone National 
Park area: 

The Great Geysers at Yellowstone are 
called Bide-Mahpe or [Bimmaaxpee, 
meaning "sacred" or "powerful" water]. 
Fringes fasted at this place for several days 
and nights. While fasting at this place the 
name "Water Old Man," Bide-issakku or 
[Bili'saahke], was given him. The Otter 
transformed as a medicine-man, and re- 
vealed the secrets of doctoring people who 
are wounded. The medicine otter would 
take its patient into this sacred water and 
the different little creatures would work 
wonders. He had a stuffed otter and would 
make the animal dive, and also the patient 
[L.A. County Museum/Seaver Center Li- 
brary/CURTIS PAPERS/ Box 4B/Unla- 
beled Pile #1 /Folder #14]. 

Next Hunts-To-Die provided some hints of 
the underlying system of Crow conceptual catego- 
ries which are often elusive in early ethnographic 
writings on the tribe. In these references to the 
origins of Yellowstone Lake's water and shore- 
line driftwood we catch a suggestion of Crow 
causal thought: 

Chapter I. Occupants on the East: Crow 47 

The great Yellowstone [Lake] gets its wa- 
ter by waves. There is a little ridge and if 
the ridge wore away the whole country 
would be overflowed. The eagles built 
their nests on the mountains of these lakes. 
The feathers, breath feathers, would form 
as driftwood... [L.A. County Museum/ 
Seaver Center Library/CURTIS PAPERS/ 
Box 4B/Unlabeled Pile #l/Folder #14]. 

Returning to the subject of the powerful 
medicine man, The-Fringes, Hunts-To-Die recalls 
the renown he achieved by virtue of the water- 
connected powers he had acquired at thermal sites 
like Thermopolis and Yellowstone: 

...It was Water Old Man (Fringes) who 
gave such names among the Apsaroke 
[Apsdalooke] as Medicine Water, Otter 
Moves Always (meaning: lives forever), 
and Otter That Stays in the Water. He 
would doctor people by taking them to wa- 
ter. He used stuffed otter to do wonders. 
He claims there are different elements in 
the water which have life, and it is through 
them people get well when he doctored 

The man [Fringes] came back to his people 
and by his wonderful power as a healer all 
people loved him and he was regarded a 
very sacred man. When a person is shot in 
battle and still has little breath in him he 
generally pulled through and got them 
well. He lived to be very old. Not only as 
medicine man, but was a very able war- 
rior among his people. He died only a short 
time ago [L.A. County Museum/Seaver 
Center Library/CURTIS PAPERS/ Box 
4B/Unlabeled Pile #1 /Folder #14]. 

Finally, Hunts-To-Die offered a more gen- 
eralized view of the Crow relationship to the Yel- 
lowstone geothermal basins. What is so fascinat- 
ing about these comments is that we find the old 
warrior turning the old debate of just who was 
afraid of whom at the Yellowstone geysers on its 

The Apsaroke [the Crow tribe] know the 
great geysers of the Yellowstone National 
Park. Only few go there to fast. All men 
who fasted there claimed to have seen 
many strange beings. They [meaning the 
spirits] would expose themselves when no 

one was around. They seemed to have no 
fear of the poor people who go there to 
fast. . . [emphases ours]. 

From this selection it appears that for Hunts- 
To-Die, at least, it was critical to emphasize the 
fact that it was the spirits that lived here in Yel- 
lowstone National Park — spirits who in his mind 
are clearly perceived as benevolent and helpful 
rather than malevolent and dangerous — whose 
potential "fear" of human beings was at issue, 
rather than the reverse. But this "fear" was allayed 
when the Crow supplicants rendered themselves 
as "poor," needy vision questers who momentarily 
divested themselves of clothing and cultural iden- 
tity in order to be receptive to their "adoption." as 
the Crows generally conceived of it, by potential 
supernatural guardians. According to Hunts-To- 
Die, that appears to have been when these "strange 
beings" that inhabit the geysers felt comfortable 
about coming to their rescue, and when Crows 
were able to harness the inner powers of Yellow- 

Crow History and the 

Yellowstone Plateau I: 


As with their feelings towards the Bighorn 
Mountain range, in the high country of the Yel- 
lowstone the Crow people found all the things they 
prized on earth. Today's Crows will illustrate the 
enduring role that mountains still play in their 
sense of identity by pointing to a highly symbolic 
event which can be witnessed each year during 
the final day of their Crow Fair, on the third week- 
end in August every year. During that afternoon's 
climactic "Parade Dance," a lengthy procession 
of traditionally attired Crows move in stately fash- 
ion around the powwow grounds at Crow Agency 
along the Little Bighorn River. Stopping four times 
for elaborate giveaways to friends, relatives, clan 
relations and special guests, at each stop hundreds 
of Crows in full dance regalia turn their bodies in 
unison towards the direction of the closest range, 
the Bighorn Mountains to the south. With great 
solemnity they then lift their eagle-wing dance 
fans or raise their arms in a corporate salute to the 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

mountains — the original source of all that is good. 
Hence it is no surprise that the ethnographer Ed- 
ward S. Curtis characterized them as "A powerful 
tribe of mountaineers" (Curtis 1909:xi). 

In this historical review of Crow association 
with the Yellowstone ecosystem during the his- 
torical period documented by outsiders, an early 
suggestion comes from a journal entry for Sep- 
tember 14th, 1805, by Francois Antoine Larocque 
when he was at the westernmost terminus of his 
grand tour of the northern Plains in 1805. Camp- 
ing on an island in the Yellowstone River only a 
few miles east of Billings, the French trader was 
told that " winter they [the Crows] were al- 
ways to be found at a Park by the foot of the Moun- 
tain only a few miles from this or thereabouts. In 
the spring and fall they are upon this River and in 
summer upon the Tongue and Horses [Pryor 
Creek] River" (Larocque 1910:45). 

One Crow teenager who observed 
Larocque's visit was named Sore Belly 
(Eeldpuash]; a quarter-century later this young 
man had matured into one of the tribe's leading 
chiefs. It was then that Sore Belly gave his fol- 
lowing, oft-quoted overview of the tribe's envi- 
ronmental preferences. Even though he was a 
River Crow leader, it is Sore Belly's description 
of his people's affection for mountain country, 
such as they found on both sides of the Bighorn 
Basin, which is emphasized: 

The Crow country is a good country [be- 
cause] the Great Spirit has put it exactly 
in the right place. It has snowy mountains 
sunny plains... and all kinds of. ..good 
things for every season. When the sum- 
mer heats scorch the prairies, you can draw 
up under the mountains, where the air is 
sweet and cool, the grass fresh, and the 
bright streams come tumbling out of the 
snow banks. There you can hunt the elk, 
the deer and the antelope when their skins 
are fit for dressing; there you will find 
plenty of white bears and mountain sheep 
[Bradley 1923:306-307]. 

During these scantily documented years one 
finds occasional sightings of Crows deep in the 
heart of Yellowstone. During the summer of 1830, 
for instance, there is an unconfirmed instance of 
some fifteen Crow families visiting "wonderful 
boiling springs" at Mammoth in the company of 

a Frenchman named Louis Bleau (Whittlesey 
1988:94, after Sharman 1902). But a more defini- 
tive tie between the tribe and the Yellowstone 
country is found in the description of Crow terri- 
tory written somewhat later by the Pennsylvania 
fur trader, Edwin Thompson Denig. 

As one of many employees of the American 
Fur Co., whose posts ranged from Blackfeet coun- 
try in the northern Rockies down to Ft. Union near 
the mouth of the Yellowstone, Denig interacted 
with Crow Indians, among other northern Plains 
native peoples, for nearly twenty years — from at 
least 1837 up to 1856 when he moved to Canada 
where he died in two years later. His detailed char- 
acterization of their aboriginal territory was: 

. . .through the Rocky Mountains, along the 
heads of Powder River, Wind River, and 
Big Horn, on the south side of the Yellow- 
stone, as far as Laramie's Fork on the River 
Platte. They also are frequently found on 
the west and north side of that river as far 
as the head of the Musselshell River, and 
as low down as the mouth of the Yellow- 
stone. That portion of their country lying 
east of the mountains is perhaps the best 
game country in the world.... Some of the 
springs near the head of the Yellowstone 
are bituminous, sending forth a substance 
like tar, which is inflammable. Others are 
sulfurous, and one or two boiling. The 
water in the last is hot enough to cook meat 
well enough to fit it to be eaten. The Indi- 
ans describe others to be of poisonous na- 
ture to animals, 'tho the same water is said 
not to affect the human species' [Denig 

When it came to an even more precise pic- 
ture of Crow territoriality, Denig described what 
sounds generally like the separate tribal divisions 
already delineated above. While one group headed 
by one "Big Robber" wintered around the head of 
the Powder River, "the largest band" led by a "Two 
Face" clung to the Wind River mountain region. 
A third group, under the rather loose control of 
"The Bear's Head" "travels along the Yellowstone 
from the mouth to its head." Denig also added that 
every summer the Crows enjoyed a major trade 
fair with the Snake and the Nez Perce "on the head- 
waters of the Yellowstone." 

What lends credibility to Denig's delinea- 

Chapter I. Occupants on the East: Crow 49 


-— — — * "ZiriNT. ^j 



■ ■■■ ■: 


Figure 1.6. Map of Crow Indian Country, c. 1855 (from "Of The Crow Nation. " by Edward Denig, Bureau of 
American Ethnology, Bulletin 5, Anthropological Papers No. 33, p. 21). 

tion of Crow territory is that it generally echoes 
the description of their holdings that was codi- 
fied, for the very first time, during the great Ft. 
Laramie peace council of 185 1 . Denig's own repu- 
tation as an expert on Crow Indian culture made 
him an influential advisor to Father Pierre Jean 
De Smet, and may have even influenced the priest 
when he attended, together with a contingent of 
Hidatsas, Arikaras and Assinihoines, that grand- 
est of all Plains gatherings — although the Crows 
had actually arrived there before him in the com- 
pany of another trader, Robert Meldrum. Since 
they had grown anxious about the Sioux breath- 
ing down their necks along their eastern bound- 
ary, and as there were no River Crows in atten- 
dance, during the Ft. Laramie discussions the tribe 
apparently accepted a more Mountain Crow slant 

on their geographical rights and hunting grounds. 
In its final form the official definition of 
"Crow country" in the ratified 1851 treaty entailed 
about 38 million acres which were bounded on 
the west by the Continental Divide — thereby ac- 
cording to U.S. law legally annexing virtually 
three-fourths of what in about twenty years was 
to become Yellowstone National Park. Its north- 
ern border was the western curve of the 
Musselshell River, plus a surveyor's line drawn 
from its mouth on the Missouri River straight to 
the mouth of the Powder River, where it pours 
into the Yellowstone. Then the Powder River also 
served as the primary eastern boundary, while far- 
ther down the Rattlesnake Hills of the Sweetwater 
Uplift at the bottom of the Wind River Basin lay 
the southern terminus of Crow domain. 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

At the time, according to Edwin C. Bearss, 
"The Crow were undoubtedly pleased with the 
treaty, because it confirmed them in possession 
of 'the best game country in the world.'" Today 
some Crows appear to feel much the same. Dur- 
ing an interview three years ago with a highly 
knowledgeable Crow elder, historian Mark Spence 
found the man: 

. . .emphatic that the Crow still have hunt- 
ing rights based on the 185 1 treaty, which 
they have never given up. Sits in the 
Middle of the Land agreed that the United 
States could have that area for a price, but 
the price was never met. The park area was 
very important thoroughfare for hunters 
coming to the Plains. But it was a two- 
way street. The Crow would go back the 
other way, meet with Shoshone for games, 
competition, hunting, socializing. While 
they were at their first two reservation 
agencies, Livingston and Absarokee, the 
Crow did a lot of hunting in the western 
portion of their reservation, in Beartooth, 
Meeteetse and Yellowstone. Bison, elk, 
deer were all hunted in the Yellowstone 
area. On a trip into Yellowstone ten years 
earlier FS saw lots of knife-sharpening 
marks for those hunters on their way down 
to get buffalo. [Here another family mem- 
ber allowed that he would like to "go in 
there and kill an elk to challenge those 
hunting laws," and that during the Yellow- 
stone fires he took a buffalo skull from the 
park in defiance of the laws against it]. 

[In addition] Yellowstone and surround- 
ing were very important fasting areas. Its 
an obvious place for this because the 
mountains are so high. He could see fast- 
ing beds on some of the ridges. Very im- 
portant spiritual place. At this Mrs. FS 
added that she had the same feeling and 
knelt down to pray in the park because "the 
Maker looks down and he knows that some 
day we will be hunting there again" 
[Spence Interview, FS and family, July, 8, 
1994, Wyola, Montana]. 

But despite lines drawn on crude maps, in 
the years following this first Ft. Laramie Treaty, 
other enemy tribes did not honor such imposed 
territorial divisions. The Teton Sioux only inten- 
sified their military pressure on Crow country and 

the white man's trading posts that served Indians 
in western Montana and Wyoming. The Blackfeet 
were of like mind, viewing the posts in Crow coun- 
try as a prime target. Wrote Indian Agent Vaughan 
in 1854: 

Scarcely a day passes but the Crow coun- 
try is invested with more or less parties of 
Blackfeet, who murder indiscriminately 
any one that comes within their reach. At 
Fort Sarpy so great is the danger that no 
one ventures even a few yards from his 
own door without company and being well 
armed [Annual Report of Commissioners 
of Indian Affairs 1854: 85]. 

Matters got so bad that finally, in 1855, the 
American Fur Company felt compelled to close 
their major outpost along the Yellowstone, Ft. 
Sarpy. Now the Crows were forced to travel many 
miles north from their homeland, to Fort Union 
along the upper Missouri in Assiniboine country, 
for the weapons, tools and ammunition which had 
been promised in the 1851 treaty and on which they 
had grown increasingly dependent. As the fur trade 
continued its decline over the late '50s and early 
'60s, the tribe's fortunes were rapidly falling at 
the same time that it was facing mounting Lakota 
aggression on the east, and additional pressure 
from the influx of gold prospectors and Oregon 
Trail adventurers from the south. 

Yet during these years Crows apparently kept 
moving freely through Yellowstone high country, 
and even staging the occasional raid on outsiders 
they were upset to find there. On his second trip 
into the park area in 1864, a prospector named John 
C. Davis first "saw plenty of Indian signs" and 
then claimed that a "section of [the] party was at- 
tacked by a hostile band of Crows, and a man 
named Harris was killed" (Louisville [Ky.] Cou- 
rier Journal, April 18, 1884, p. 12). If Davis' tribal 
designation was accurate, this would be highly 
uncharacteristic of the generally conciliatory tribe, 
and perhaps evidence of their desperate straits at 
the time. 

To U.S. authorities, however, the Crow plight 
was but a minor ripple in the alarming instability 
into which the entire Plains had been thrown by 
the waves of incoming pioneers and miners, and 
by the widespread Indian intransigence which this 
emigration had aroused. They felt that new meth- 

Chapter I. Occupants on the East: Crow 51 

ods of pacification, both on the battlefield and the 
treaty table, were clearly in order. When the tribe 
was pressured into attending a second major treaty 
conference at Ft. Laramie, in late 1867, its major 
spokesperson was the Mountain Crow leader, 
Blackfeet, or Awe Kualawaachish, meaning "Sits 
In The Middle of the Land." 

At six feet two with a muscular build, he 
was an imposing orator and a fierce defender of 
his people's aboriginal territory. Today the Crow 
remember him as their major "Chief of All Chiefs" 
during the diplomatically crucial decade of 1867- 
77 and Crows identify the geographical signifi- 
cance of his Indian name with their sense of a 
chosen people who found their promised land in 
the very center of the Great Plains (Bernardis 
1986:50-52). This feeling is deeply established in 
tribal consciousness, as evidenced when the 
chief's peer and second-in-command. Iron Bull 
(Uuwatchiilapish), also known as White On The 
Temple (Itchiiua Chiash), who gave William Clark 
a version of the Crow creation story which cli- 
maxed with the Great Spirit leading the Crow to 
the Yellowstone river landscape and saying, "This 
is your country; the water is pure and cold, the 
grass is good. It is a fine country, and it is yours. . .1 
have made all this country round you. I have put 
you in the center... "(Clark 1885:137-138). At 
about the same time Iron Bull was quoted as of- 
fering similar sentiments about the sacred estab- 
lishment of Crow territory: 

This is the earth the Great Spirit made [fori 
them. The Piegans he put them there, in- 
dicating a point in the line of the circle he 
made, then the Great Spirit made the 
Sioux, the Snakes [Shoshones]. Flat-heads 
and many others and located them all 
around the earth. The Great Spirit put us 
right in the middle of the earth, because 
we are the best people in the world | Fa- 
ther Prando to Cataldo, 26 September 1883, 
Gonzaga College Jesuit Archives, page 5 
of translation from the Italian by Paul 
Gehl. Newberry Library, Chicago, cour- 
tesy of Dr. Frederick E. Hoxie, Director. 
McNicklc Center for Indian History, 
Newberry Library, Chicago]. 

To lure the Crow to Ft. Laramie for the great 
council of 1868 the government sent them invita- 
tional bundles of tobacco. Although while en route 

to the meeting Sits In the Middle of the Land's 
group of delegates were attacked by Cheyenne, 
when they finally sat down to treaty-making busi- 
ness at Ft. Laramie they faced a more serious threat 
to their territory than they had ever encountered 
on the battlefield (Bradley 1991:94). Despite such 
convictions about their preeminent position in the 
Plains, in the concluding session of the drawn- 
out negotiations that stretched into the month of 
May, the Crows finally agreed to a radically 
shrunken reservation. Through this Fort Laramie 
Treaty of 1868 the tribe lost all their lands in Wyo- 
ming plus all the acreage north of the Yellowstone 
River and east of the 107th meridian. Out of their 
original 39,000,000 acres they had only 8 million 
acres left. Later Sits In The Middle of The Land 
would complain that he was shocked how much 
territory had been surrendered and complained that 
it was a "misstatement" of the verbal agreements 
they had made at Ft. Laramie. Were second-hand 
shirts, rusty kettles and poor quality stockings a 
fair trade for the loss to his Mountain Crows of 
the bulk of their old Yellowstone hunting grounds, 
he would ask? Now the great bend of the Yellow- 
stone River itself served as the tribe's northern 
perimeter — with the domain of their archenemies 
the Blackfeet located much too close for Crow 
comfort, directly on the river's opposite shore 
(Bradley 1991:96). 

Still, at this time the Crows along with other 
Indians were not overly cowed by these new ter- 
ritorial constraints. When two hunters were killed 
on the Upper Lamar valley in 1868, no one was 
sure which tribe to blame. But when the Washburn 
Expedition entered the park two years later, they 
had no hesitation in identifying the Indian band 
of twenty-five lodges which they tracked along 
the Bannock Trail to its ford at the narrows near 
Tower Fall as Crows, nor in associating the fif- 
teen "wickey ups" a mile from Tower Junction 
with the "Crow" trails they had been pursuing 
across the Yellowstone Plateau. Contrary to other 
reassuring reports that Indians had been cleared 
out of Yellowstone's thick woods, the expedition 
also found "recent" camps, freshly used trails and 
"old Indian" lodges throughout the region. Obvi- 
ously Indians felt free and able to travel in and 
out of the Yellowstone Plateau as they pleased. 

Five years after the Ft. Laramie Treaty of 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

1868, Sits In The Middle of the Land had second- 
thoughts about the agreement. In the following 
excerpt from his lengthy remarks he would also 
feature a key metaphor for how his people imag- 
ined their territory: 

I went to Fort Laramie; the old Indians 
signed the treaty. We came back to the 
camp and told the young men, and they 
said we had done wrong and they did not 
want to have anything to do with it. . . When 
we set up our lodge poles, one reaches to 
the Yellowstone, the other is on White 
River, another goes to the Wind River; and 
the other lodges on the Bridger Mountains. 
This is our land and so we told the com- 
missioners at Fort Laramie, but all kinds 
of white people come over it and we tell 
you of it, though we say nothing to them. 
On this side of the Yellowstone there is a 
lake; about it are buffalo. It is rich coun- 
try; the whites are on it; they are stealing 
our quartz; it is ours, but we say nothing 
to them... When we were in council at 
Laramie we asked whether we might eat 
the buffalo for a long time. They said yes. 
That is not in the treaty. We told them we 
wanted a big country. They said we should 
have it; and that is not in the treaty... They 
said "Will you sell the Powder River coun- 
try, Judith Basin and Wind River country?" 
I told them "No;" but that is not in the 
treaty... [House Executive Document No. 
89, 43rd Congress, 1st Session, pp. 28-42, 
emphasis ours]. 

Crows and Yellowstone 

National Park: Loss of a 

Landscape (1872-19%) 

During the months that the proposal to es- 
tablish Yellowstone National Park was being de- 
bated in Washington in 1872, it is not surprising to 
observe how little reported discussion there was 
concerning any Indian rights to the region, or even 
about the possible cultural remains of Indians 
within the projected "natural" preserve. In so far 
as the Crow Indians of Montana were concerned, 
of course, the government assumed that any Crow 
1 85 1 treaty rights to all lands east of their Elk River 
[Yellowstone] and the Wind River Basin almost 

down to the Stillwater had been wrested from them 
during the subsequent treaty they had signed in 
1868 at Fort Laramie. Shrunken by three-fourths, 
the new map of their reservation had yanked their 
southern perimeter entirely out of the proposed 
park, running it north of and just parallel to the 
present-day Montana- Wyoming state line. 

Yet in 1871, when the Crows were slowly ac- 
climatizing to life at their first reservation agency 
at Mission Creek near present-day Livingston, 
Montana, they still clung to a sliver of land that 
would be later accessioned to Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park. Unfortunately, it was to this very re- 
gion, near the headwaters of the Clarks Fork of 
the Yellowstone, that prospectors had found sil- 
ver and gold. Since the fall of 1869 there had been 
bloody ambushes between miners and Indians 
furious about outsiders digging into their land; 
Crows were accused, for instance, of the grisly 
killing of Jack Crandall — discoverer of the first 
gold strike, and his companion named 
Daugherty — in which their severed heads were 
found impaled on upright mining stakes (Hansen 
and Funderburk 1962:2-3). Now an annual coun- 
cil of the tribe agreed about sending an urgent 
message to the Superintendent of Indian Affairs 
in Washington, asking for protection from the 
Sioux on the one hand, and from prospectors rush- 
ing into the Clarks Fork area on the other. 

In 1872, those branches of the tribe more 
closely connected to the Yellowstone Plateau re- 
gion — the Mountain Crows and the Kicked-In- 
The-Bellies — were still smarting from this loss of 
traditional access to hunting, foraging and raid- 
ing grounds. But there were others reasons why, 
in 1872, the Crow were probably not much con- 
cerned about Washington's plans for the country's 
first national park. At this time the entire tribe was 
in an anxious state of division and dislocation. 
While the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 had estab- 
lished reservation boundaries for the division of 
the tribe known to whites as the Mountain Crow, 
the less well-to-do division known as the River 
Crow had only an un-ratified treaty and were in a 
state of relative homelessness. In accord with that 
treaty, the tribe's first reservation agency had been 
constructed on Mission Creek near modern 
Livingston, Montana in 1869. 

Getting used to this new reservation lifestyle 

Chapter I. Occupants on the East: Crow 53 

Figure 1.7. Crow Indians at Yellowstone National Park, Lamar Valley, during 1927 buffalo roundup (Photo 
courtesy of Yellowstone National Park Archives, Catalog #Yell 37795). 

at the Mission agency, in the year of 1872 the River 
Crow were using the Mission Creek agency as a 
refuge from the diseases prevalent among the Gros 
Ventre along the Milk River as well as from in- 
cessant marauding by the Sioux. In 1879, wrote 
the agent, "This summer, for the first time in their 
history, the Crows have remained upon their res- 
ervation" without any problems (Augustus R. 
Keller to Hon. E. A. Hayt, Commissioner of In- 
dian Affairs, July 1, 1879, Box 9, Records of the 
Crow Indian Agency, Federal Records Center, 
Seattle, Washington). What was left of Crow hold- 
ings within the confines of the fledgling Yellow- 
stone National Park in 1880 was referred to as the 
"Montana Strip," which Agent Keller advised the 
government against selling, citing the Crow rights 
by treaty to it and the fact that they: 

seldom go above the lower canon [first or 
Rock Canyon] because of the presence of 
so many whites above the canon which has 
destroyed the game to the extent that it is 
impossible for them to live there. They do. 

however, go above the Boulder because 
of that locality being good grazing and the 
vicinity being one of the best game regions 
in the Reserve" [Keller to Hayt, June 19, 
1879, Box 9, Records of the Crow Indian 
Agency, Federal Records Center, Seattle, 

But as suggested by this communique, at this 
point three factors were crowding in upon the 
Crows' free and open use of this area. The first 
concerned the policy against poaching animals in 
the park, which was being vigorously enforced 
by the second Superintendent Norris in order to 
check the dwindling numbers of bears, elk and 
deer whose decline had become drastically appar- 
ent since 1875. While white poachers might have 
been well aware of the rules they were breaking 
when they trespassed into the park for hunting and 
trapping, to the Indians this white man's notion of 
a "wilderness game preserve" where game and 
later even plant procurement was banned would 
have sounded very strange. 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

The second intrusion began as more of an 
ominous shadow than a material substance, but in 
the long run it would severely aid and abet the 
Indian loss of territory. This was the laying of rail- 
road lines across Indian country. Already the 
Union Pacific had been a major factor in the final 
extinction of buffalo in the southern Plains. Now 
the entrepreneur Jay Cooke, whose wealth had 
derived from Civil War loans, underwrote the goal 
of the Northern Pacific to run its trains from Lake 
Superior to Puget Sound, and railway surveyors 
had reached the Yellowstone River in 1871 (Brad- 
ley 1991:100). Temporarily stalled by the finan- 
cial panic of 1873, the Northern Pacific finally 
penetrated the heart of Crow country by the early 
1880s. A prescient promoter, Cooke was soon 
boosting the visits of famous eastern artists like 
Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt into the Yel- 
lowstone country, whose monumental scenes, one 
might add, would idealize the landscape while 
erasing the Indian presence. 

At the same time a third pressure on Indians 
was becoming unbearable. This was the influx of 
miners along the Clarks Fork, who had increas- 
ingly called for the wholesale eviction of Indians 
from their sluicing streams. In the summer of 1862 
the first Montana gold strikes were made on Grass- 
hopper Creek, in the western reaches of the terri- 
tory; within two years mining camps under names 
such as "Bear Gulch, Clarks Fork, Emigrant Gulch 
and Mill Creek" cropped up in the westerly por- 
tions of the Crow Reservation. After the 1868 
treaty, of course, these pockets of aggressive fron- 
tier industry were more clearly illegal trespass- 
ers, but the Crow agent still doubted seriously 
whether there were enough troops in all Montana 
to keep whites out of any mountains. After Major 
E.M. Baker's troops and some prospectors at- 
tempted to protect the Northern Pacific survey 
party from the Sioux who were marauding near 
Bozeman in 1872, the prospectors and their cattle 
began to stir up the Crow by settling on the Boul- 
der River, clearly ignoring their reservation bound- 
aries (Bradley 1991:102). 

But the miners would not be impeded from 
invading Crow country or, from moving up the 
Rosebud Fork and higher into the mountains un- 
der their folk theory that, as Crow elder Barney 
Old Coyote has phrased it, "the bigger the moun- 

tains the more the gold." Yet it was federal policy 
to encourage such mineral exploitation, so in 1880, 
the government asked the tribe to sell off the west- 
ern corner of the reservation, from the Absaroka 
Range in the west across the Beartooth Plateau 
and past Rocky Fork. Even before the treaty for- 
mally went into effect on April 11, 1882, impatient 
miners had infiltrated the surrounding valleys and 
constructed a smelter. And just over the Beartooth 
Plateau miners had already organized the back- 
water settlement of thirty to forty cabins into 
Cooke City — named to entice Jay Cooke into lay- 
ing a railroad line, which he failed to do (Bradley 
1991:114; Haines V. I, 1977:267; Haines personal 
communication, October 15, 1999). 

Now the "white people," to whom Sits In 
The Middle of the Land referred in 1873, were 
firmly and legally in charge of the major old Crow 
pass up the Yellowstone River. This 1882 agree- 
ment also extinguished Crow rights to that remain- 
ing segment of the park north of the forty-fifth 
degree of latitude and east of the Yellowstone 
River. We may never know exactly the sorts of 
behind-the-scenes pressures which caused the 
eventual capitulation of the Crows to this final 
surrender of northern Yellowstone National Park 
land. In the case of the Crow it stands to reason 
that the campaign among the mining interests to 
clear any impediments, Indians or otherwise, from 
the lucrative Clarks Fork mines had reached fe- 

As if to hammer home the humiliation of the 
Crow loss of political and territorial authority, 
when the Northern Pacific Railroad celebrated the 
completion of its line with a branch connection 
into Yellowstone National Park, some Crow lead- 
ers were invited to attend the last-spike ceremony 
in full regalia. Perhaps it was appropriate that the 
historic tribe with the clearest legal rights to half 
of the park were represented at the Gold Creek 
celebration in early 1884. In the symbolic drama- 
tization of willing capitulation which ensued, it 
was the genial Crow Indian named Iron Bull 
(Bernardis 1986:52-53) who spoke for his people. 
Second in rank to Chief Sits In The Middle of the 
Land and well-known for his hospitality to whites 
and indigent fellow tribesmen alike, he was as- 
signed the role of handing the metal spike to Henry 
Villard, president of the Northern Pacific Railroad. 

Chapter I. Occupants on the East: Crow 55 

And after dutifully performing his role, Iron Bull 
reportedly told the assembled crowd: 

This is the last of it — this is the last thing 
for me to do. I am glad to see you here, 
and hope my people of the Crow Nation 
are glad to see you, too. There is a mean- 
ing in my part of the ceremony, and I un- 
derstand it. The end of our lives is near at 
hand. The days of my people are almost 
numbered; already they are dropping off 
like the rays of sunlight in the western sky. 
Of our once powerful nation there are now 
few left — just a little handful, and we, too, 
will soon be gone" [Livingston Enterprise, 
March 28, 1884]. 

We may never be sure about the possible iro- 
nies that underlay Iron Bull's words, or the degree 
to which the carefully choreographed ceremony 
whose meaning he says he understood full well 
was pre-scripted to fit into the "Vanishing Ameri- 
can" theory which prevailed at this time (Dippie 
1982; and see Chapter 5). This bit of wishful think- 
ing held that the Indian population across the na- 
tion was on the wane, and it was only a matter of 
time before they would be a thing of the past. 
Whatever was the case, the ambivalent presence 
and double-edged speech of Iron Bull represented 
the first of various occasions when fully costumed 
Indians would be invited into or around Yellow- 
stone National Park in order to grace, and per- 
haps to authenticate, solemn occasions such as the 
opening of gateways or the naming of mountains. 

Over time the Crows would be asked to cede 
more land as well. In 1891 they felt the more direct 
might of the railroad lobby, as the Montana & 
Wyoming Railroad Company fought for a more 
direct route to the Clarks Fork mines. While leg- 
islators were able to ensure that it would only come 
within a mile of Yellowstone National Park and 
no further, they did manage to win full right to lay 
rails across Crow country (Haines II 1977:40). Of 
Crow feelings about these early land losses in and 
near the park we have scanty information. How- 
ever it is recorded that in 1907, when the survivor 
of the Custer fight, Curley, objected to yet another 
proposal to open up more of the Crow Reserva- 
tion for non-Indian settlement, he revealed to the 
officials the depth of his people's feelings for their 
traditional landscape: 

The soil you see is not ordinary soil — it is 
the dust of the blood, the flesh and bones 
of our ancestors. We fought and bled and 
died helping the whites. You will have to 
dig down through the surface before you 
can find nature's earth as the upper por- 
tion is Crow. The land as it is. is my blood 
and my dead; it is consecrated and I do 
not want to give up any portion of it 
[Garber 1916:28]. 

Connections to the Kiowa: 
Close to "The Heart of God" 

When it came to learning as much as pos- 
sible about different Plains Indian responses to the 
thermal field of Yellowstone National Park, an un- 
expected outcome of our research was a purported 
Kiowa Indian connection. We place this material 
in this chapter because, according to oral tradi- 
tions recorded by numerous fieldworkers. there 
existed a comradely, proto-historical connection 
between the Crow tribe and the early Kiowa 
(Mooney 1979[ 1898]: 153- 156; Scott 1911; Lowie 
1915:597; Old Horn and McCleary 1995; Parsons 
1929:XIX; Voeglin 1933:470^174). 

The following narrative came to light in late 
1994 during our chance encounter with Kiowa cul- 
ture researcher and member of the tribe's Busi- 
ness Committee, DDT, in the Smithsonian's Na- 
tional Anthropological Archives in Washington 
D.C., where we were hunting for photographs for 
this project. Upon learning of our study of the 
Yellowstone region this official informed us of a 
narrative known to the family line of one SC. a 
Kiowa Indian from Anadarko. Oklahoma, which, 
surprisingly enough, linked the creation of aborigi- 
nal Kiowa territory to the Yellowstone Plateau. 

Perhaps the knowledge of this northerly re- 
gion by the early Kiowa, who eventually settled 
around Rainy Mountain in western Oklahoma, 
should not have sounded so far-fetched. In his 
probe into early Kiowa history James Mooney 
interviewed elderly tribal members in the 1890s 
and learned that their traditions located them "in 
or beyond the mountains at the extreme western 
sources of the Yellowstone and the Missouri" 
(Mooney 197911898]: 153). Within the oldest 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

memories of these informants were such impres- 
sions as an intensely cold region, a place of deep 
snows, and a people with compressed heads whom 
Mooney identified as the Flathead. It was while 
these early Kiowa were living at this location that 
two rival chiefs got into an argument and the tribe 
split up. The followers of the one moved to the 
east, setting up residence near the Crow along the 
Yellowstone, while the other group remained in 
the mountains. 

Perhaps the most compelling connection be- 
tween the Kiowa and Yellowstone National Park 
comes from Hugh Scott, a 7th Cavalryman who 
was stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma in 1889. Scott 
met many of the old Kiowa warriors who remem- 
bered a homeland in what they call Gd 7 K'op or 
the Kiowa Mountains at the extreme sources of 
the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers. The exact 
identity of the Kiowa Mountains is no longer 
known, but thanks to Scott we know these moun- 
tains were near Yellowstone National Park. The 
Kiowa came from: 

The headwaters of the Missouri and Yel- 
lowstone Rivers near where the Kiowa 
Mountains are and the geysers of the Yel- 
lowstone Park which they describe as 
shooting hot water high in the air — and 
which no Kiowa has seen for some gen- 
erations — and probably has heard little of 
from white people but he describes that 
country in a way it can be recognized 
[Scott nd., no pagination]. 

This strongly suggests the Kiowa lived near 
the park, and that the "Kiowa Mountains" are 
probably the Gallatin Mountains or Madison 
Mountains of southern Montana. 

From the scholarly perspective, the broad 
outlines of this account for Kiowa ethnogenesis 
are echoed within the summary recently provided 
by the ethnohistorian Nancy P. Hickerson: 

When the Lewis and Clark expedition as- 
cended the Missouri River in the summer 
of 1805, they reported that the 'Kiawa' in 
seventy tents, were located on the head- 
waters of the Platte, very near to the Yel- 
lowstone Valley, the territories of the Crow, 
and the traditional place of Kiowa emer- 
gence (Coues 1965[1893], 1:58-60). ...In 
their early years of trading in the north. 

the Kiowa could have been witness to a 
wave of spectacular ceremonial events, as 
the Sun Dance complex spread through the 
tribes of the region. They became friends 
and trading partners of the Crow, lived 
among them for periods of time, and even- 
tually intermarried. ..Eventually, the 
Kiowas also adopted these ceremonies and 
adapted them to their own needs. This pro- 
cess was completed when the Kiowa Cold 
People, after sojourning in the north, even- 
tually reunited with their southern conge- 
ners. They brought with them a vision of 
a new type of tribal unity, promoted by an 
annual gathering of bands and heightened 
by the drama of a great ceremonial 
[Hickerson 1996:86-87, emphasis ours]. 

At the same time, native accounts offer some 
corroboration for this scenario of Kiowa genesis 
and intimate knowledge of the north country. In 
the 1930s, when the Smithsonian linguist John 
Peabody Harrington was interviewing Kiowas in 
Oklahoma, he was surprised to learn that they re- 
tained important place-names for both the Yellow- 
stone and Black Hills regions (Harrington 1939). 
Their term Kaaek'oup, for instance, referred to a 
location in the far north, at least three hundred 
miles west of the Black Hills, which Harrington 
conjectured might apply to "the main range of the 
Rocky Mountains at the Three Forks, and said to 
be so called because the Kiowas once lived there" 
(Harrington 1939:167). As for the Kiowa term for 
the Yellowstone River itself, most of James 
Mooney's oldest informants concurred with 
Ts 'oousa, meaning "several rocks stand planted," 
although when Mooney originally noted the word 
he had unnecessarily added the postpound, -p'a, 
meaning "river," after the place-name. Together 
with the even more intimate residue of Black Hills 
topographical knowledge which Harrington found 
among living Kiowas, it appears highly reason- 
able that their northland experiences could have 
left an abiding mark on Kiowa cultural memory. 

Finally, modern Kiowas claim similar ances- 
tral ties to the Yellowstone region. In writing of 
his people's origins, the Pulitzer Prize-winning 
Kiowa Indian novelist, N. Scott Momaday, has 
said, "Nomads, they had come upon the Southern 
Plains at about the time of the Revolutionary War, 
having migrated from the area of the headwaters 

Chapter I. Occupants on the East: Crow 57 

of the Yellowstone River, in what is now western 
Montana, by way of the Black Hills and the High 
Plains. Along the way they had become a people 
of the deep interior, the midcontinent — hunters, 
warriors, keepers of the sacred earth" (Momaday 
1976:28). And according to native consultants of 
The Kiowa Historical and Research Society who 
were authorized by their Kiowa Tribal Council to 
contribute to a collective project on the tribe's cul- 
ture history in 1975: 

The Kiowa saga began long ago in the 
north country. In the land of the Yellow- 
stone the Kiowas felt great personal power. 
They faced the sun, learned the trails, and 
conquered the mountains. After many 
years, however, they became restless in the 
Yellowstone vastness. 

Westward and north the panoramic sweep 
revealed ranges of mountains stretching 
against the horizon in shades of green, 
brown, purple, and misty blues. In that di- 
rection the past tribal experience was com- 
patible with the demands of the earth and 
their friends — the Flatheads. 

Eastward and south lay vast unknown prai- 
ries and unfriendly tribes, but also millions 
of life-sustaining buffalo. Though legend 
recounts that some Kiowas chose the 
northwest route, the bulk of the tribe turned 
east and southward for what proved to be 
their great trek through the land of seem- 
ingly limitless prairies abundant with buf- 
falo [Boyd 1981:9]. 

From that point this narrative leads into the 
story of "why most of the tribe left the plains," 
and an account of "The Tulling-out' Band Leg- 
end," which opens with the sentence, "Long ago 
two chiefs led a Kiowa hunting party in the land 
of the Yellowstone in the north (Boyd 1981:9)." 
After a dispute between these chiefs over the ud- 
der of a slain antelope, one of these chiefs leads 
his faction, the Kuato or "Pulling Out" band, to 
the northeast, and they are never heard from again, 
whereupon the victorious chief led his "main body 
of Kiowas" southeastward toward the Black Hill 
country (Boyd 1981:9-10). 

Yet our investigation turned up a more de- 
tailed picture of mythic Kiowa origins which was 

also more geographically precise in situating the 
events within the Yellowstone Plateau. This nar- 
rative came from SC, a 47-year-old Vietnam War 
Veteran and painter who is an enrolled member 
of the Kiowa Tribe. In the winter of 1986 his tribe 
commissioned this man and two other Kiowa art- 
ists, MCB and PB, to illustrate the mythic and his- 
toric background of their people. Each of the ten 
panels measured six-by-eight feet and are cur- 
rently displayed in the Kiowa Tribal Museum at 
the Kiowa Tribal Complex in Carnegie, Okla- 
homa. According to SC, it was MCB who "illus- 
trated the early history of the Kiowas, the Yel- 
lowstone, what we call the Yellowstone period, 
up until the Kiowas moved down to the southern 
Plains area" (Personal communication. July 17, 

During this mural project, SC was ap- 
proached by ST, a Kiowa elder and tribal histo- 
rian, now deceased, who "related a story to me 
concerning the Yellowstone area and requested 
that the story be illustrated in a painting." The story 
rang a bell, and our consultant believes he may 
have heard it earlier, perhaps from his father, a 
well-known Kiowa storyteller. But the version told 
by ST was related in "great, great detail. . .[he] also 
described the location [in Yellowstone Park] to 
me." In 1993 our consultant attempted to write the 
story down, but as he says he has not yet produced 
a final draft, he preferred to relate it orally on tape 
rather than read from his written version. Repro- 
duced here in its entirety, SC entitled the following 
account, "Close to the Heart of God: Kiowa Yel- 
lowstone origins narration." 

There was a man who the Kiowas say was 
one of the greatest Kiowas who ever lived, 
but no one remembers his name so only 
for the purpose of this story I will call him 
Kahn Hayn (ph) which means "No Name" 
in the Kiowa language. Kahn Hayn was 
orphaned as a young child and he didn't 
marry. He didn't have any offspring and 
no immediate family, so his status in the 
tribe is described as being kali ah, or 
"poor". But he was a great hunter and a 
warrior, and he had a big heart and he was 
always working for the greater welfare of 
the Kiowa people and helping to provide 
for those who were less fortunate than him. 


American Indians and Yellowstone National I'ark 

Figure 1.8. Kiowa Consultant SC with family visiting 
Dragon 's Mouth, site of "Heart of God" narrative 
1993 (Photo courtesy ofSC, Anadarko, Oklahoma). 

When Doh Ki [also known as Doyem 
Daw-k'hee or "the Earth-maker" (Boyd 
1981:2)], or God, put all the people on the 
earth he placed them here and there in dif- 
ferent areas according to how well they 
could fit in, in those areas. But after that 
was done there were still several groups 
of people, different tribes who didn't have 
places to call a homeland, and the Kiowas 
were among this group of people. One 
day a bush spoke to all these people and 
called them all together in one area. When 
the Kiowas arrived at this spot they dis- 
covered that the voice was the voice of 
God, or Doh Ki. Doh Ki explained to this 
gathering that he had one place left on this 
earth that didn't have anybody living there. 
But to get to this place, one of them had to 
go through a very difficult and dangerous 
journey to arrive there. 

Doh Ki then had these people move to a 
place that Kahn Hayn thought was some- 
where near the end of the earth. There was 
no vegetation there, no animals, no insects. 
Nothing moved about the ground or in the 
air. There was only dirt and rough stone 
formations, and here and there clouds of 
steam shot out from holes and fissures in 
the ground. Doh Ki called everyone around 
one of these steaming pools, and that was 
the most disturbing sight in this desolate 
place. There was a large deep cauldron of 
boiling water that surged and smashed 
against the jagged rock walls. It made a 

loud fearsome thumping noise, the caul- 
dron did. It sounded like a great beast was 
just below the surface fighting to break free 
from the cauldron and tossing waters 
about violently. 

Most of the people ran away immediately 
from the dreadful sight and sounds, and 
only a handful of chiefs and warriors from 
the various tribes stayed there, and Kahn 
Hayn and a few other Kiowa men were 
among them. Doh Ki then pointed down 
into the cauldron and told the remaining 
men that the surrounding land would be- 
long to the tribe of any man who would 
dive down into the crashing waters. This 
created a good deal of excited discussion 
among these men and some began to back 
away because of fear, and many left be- 
cause they felt this land, this country was 
useless and it wasn't worth risking their 
lives for. 

Because of his strong belief and faith in 
the goodness of God, of Doh Ki, Kahn 
Hayn knew that there was more to this, to 
this offer, than what they were seeing and 
hearing, because Doh Ki didn't play tricks 
on the people. He constantly tested them, 
but his rewards were always good and last- 
ing. Kahn Hayn related his feelings to the 
other Kiowas and said he had decided that 
he would try this thing, he was Kah Ahn 
and if this didn't work out right he 
wouldn't be leaving any family behind, 
and there would be no one to mourn his 

So he stepped over to the edge of the caul- 
dron. He looked around one last time, but 
there was not much to see in this desolate 
landscape except his fellow Kiowas 
watching him with expressions of dread 
and apprehension. He then looked down 
into the boiling water, he closed his eyes 
and pushed himself off and down into the 

Kahn Hayn first felt the extreme heat of 
the water, this started a small panic within 
him. The thumping sound that they'd heard 
was instead above the cauldron now, 
[there] was a terrible pounding all through 
his body and made his head feel like it was 

Chapter I. Occupants on the East: Crow 59 

about to burst. He had a sense that he had 
dived deep into the hot pool and his 
thoughts were raised in about what he was 
supposed to do next. He was wondering if 
there was something in this pool that he 
had to reach for. and if so he had to find it 
real soon because his lungs were begin- 
ning to ache, and his skin was getting 
numb from the heat of the water, and he 
felt like he was blistering from the intense 
heat of the water. Now, all of a sudden, 
while he was going through all these dif- 
ferent emotions, something else struck 
him, just horrified him, and increased his 
panic. When he entered the water he was 
tossed about so much that he lost all sense 
of directions. He wanted to open his eyes 
to try to find his bearings, but he was afraid 
that his eyes would be burned like his skin 
was being burned, and he also felt himself 
being banged and scraped against the 
sharp, rough walls. But he couldn't tell, 
from the angle of the walls, he couldn't 
tell if he was near to the surface or deeper 
down into the cauldron, his air was start- 
ing to give out and all of the heat and 
pounding was causing him to lose all hope 
for his situation. 

So just as he felt himself losing conscious- 
ness he decided just to let himself go to 
whatever death had in store for him. So he 
stopped his moving about, his thrashing, 
and he let himself go limp and he waited 
for death to overtake him. He didn't real- 
ize that at the time he was near the surface 
of the water of the cauldron. 

were the Kiowas, and they were all trying 
to explain at once about the miraculous 
thing that Kahn Hayn had accomplished. 
The landscape was no longer barren and 
desolate but was now filled with a thick, 
rich forest of tall, beautiful trees. The dis- 
tant mountains were partly covered with 
snow and small streams and creeks flowed 
down from the mountains, and they turned 
into rushing rivers which in turn cascaded 
into large bodies of water lakes. Also, there 
were now many large and small animals 
of all types moving through the forest, 
across the landscape, and on top and along 
the waters and waterways. The place that 
Kahn Hayn left as he dove into the caul- 
dron was now transformed. This became 
the land that Doh Ki spoke of. This was 
now the most beautiful and abundant of 
all places on the earth, and this became 
the Kiowas' homeland. 

Following this journey that Kahn Hayn 
made, the Kiowas stayed and feasted and 
celebrated for days and days, and they 
made many prayers in gratitude to Doh Ki 
for his gift that he gave to the Kiowas. 
Kahn Hayn became the chief of the 
Kiowas, and he had his choice of any 
young woman from the tribe for wives. 

The Kiowas lived in, around this area for 
many years, and when Kahn Hayn finally 
died the Kiowas took him back to that caul- 
dron and they buried him nearby. And then, 
gradually, the Kiowas began to move away 
from there into other areas. 

When he stopped struggling his body 
floated up and broke the surface into the 
cool, sweet air. As he rolled over and be- 
gan to gulp in the fresh air, he felt himself 
being lifted from the water by a lot of 
hands, and the next thing he heard [was] a 
lot of excited yelling and victory cries that 
the Kiowas were making. 

And (hen he opened his eyes and he saw 
the most beautiful sight any human has 
ever seen. Doh Ki was not around any 
longer, nor were all the oilier tribal people 
who were gathered around as he dove into 
the cauldron. The only ones that were there 

They say that because of what Kahn Hayn 
did at that time, and because of the Kiowas' 
deep faith in God, that the Kiowas would 
always be preeminent, or paramount, to 
all other peoples, all other tribes, and that 
we would always remain closest to the 
heart of God, Orbah Hah. That's all. 

In the limited published corpus of Kiowa oral 
tradition there is some corroboration for this nar- 
rative. SC himself came up with one of the three 
variants for the story. "How the Kiowa Became 
Paramount," which were collected by the noted 
anthropologist and folklorist Elsie Clews Parsons 
in the late 1920s. In Parsons' third version, out of 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

nowhere a mysterious voice issues a challenge: 
'"Whoever jumps into this pool of water, will get 
something,' and that was, to live in the centre of 
the world (Parsons 1929: 15)." What is dangerous 
about the pool are vaguely defined "sharp points" 
sticking from the water, which are described as 
"sharp as cattails." Everyone else in the vicinity 
is too afraid to jump, but when a brave Kiowa 
leaps into the pool he plunges down and through 
to "the other side," winning the reward "to live in 
the centre of the world (Parsons 1929: 15)." Then 
the voice went even further and prophesied that if 
the Kiowa ever died out, "there would be no more 
life on this earth. When the Indian race and lan- 
guage come to an end, there will be no more life 
on earth (Parsons 1929:15)." 

According to our consultant, his people have 
a name for the places where these mythic events 
occurred. He says that "the name that we Kiowas 
have for that Yellowstone area is Tung Sa 'u Dah, 
which means "hot water," or "the place of hot wa- 
ter." Furthermore, he identified the specific loca- 
tion or "cauldron" where the protagonist he calls 
Kahn Hayn ("No Name") had his near-death ex- 
perience as The Dragon's Mouth, next to Mud Vol- 
cano, north of Yellowstone Lake. 

Continuing Crow Ties to 

With the estrangement between Crows and 
the Yellowstone Plateau region that commenced 
with the Treaty of 1868, it is difficult to recon- 
struct any lingering connections in the 20th cen- 
tury between the tribe and the park. Our principal 
Crow consultant did recall one of the few forms 
of native enterprise open to Indians in the general 
area — dancing for Yellowstone-bound tourists at 
Pahaska Tepee or Cody's Irma Hotel. But his fam- 
ily was not the only Indian entrepreneurs who have 
attempted to eke out summer earnings by present- 
ing versions of native culture for tourists in the 
Yellowstone region. Although Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park never seems to have encouraged or 
commercially exploited its romantic association 
with locally derived Indian images and icons in 
the outgoing manner that Glacier National Park 
did with the Blackfeet Indians, Yosemite National 

Park with the Miwok Indians, or Grand Canyon 
National Park with the Hopi and Havasupai Indi- 
ans, over the years there appear to have been spo- 
radic attempts to encourage or allow Indians from 
adjoining reservations to display wares or exhibit 
dances for visitors. Although the facts are few 
and far between, the historical record contains a 
few glimpses of Indians performing as Indians 
within the park. 

From the late 19th century come a few hints 
that the idea of Indians exhibiting their culture in 
the park was periodically entertained. One taw- 
dry instance comes to light from a letter in the 
park archives dated July 5, 1896, in which an In- 
dian from an unidentified tribe complained to a 
"Captain Anderson" at Fort Yellowstone that he 
had been ordered to leave the park after being ca- 
joled into buying whiskey for a soldier. In order 
to avoid eviction, the Indian then took a job cut- 
ting wood and doing carpentry offered by a Mr. 
Waters at "Thumbs." But when some acquaintan- 
ces asked him to "dance a war dance" and he "got 
a butcher knife in his teeth and danced" he was 
fired. His letter pleaded that he was "an Indian 
boy I work for my own living," but a notation 
penned on his letter indicated that he was a "deaf 
and drunk Indian" who was merely excusing "the 
circumstances that led to his being expelled from 
the Park" (Yellowstone National Park Archives 

Three years later Mr. E.C. Waters, President 
of the Yellowstone Lake Boat Co. which was lo- 
cated in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, received per- 
mission through the park's Acting Superintendent 
from the Secretary of the Interior "to locate Indi- 
ans [in their wigwams] on Dot Island in the Yel- 
lowstone Lake from June 13th to September 15th, 
for exhibition to the tourists in the park." But In- 
terior Secretary E. A. Hitchcock also stipulated 
that the Indians: 

"...who may best be secured from the 
Crow Agency, Montana, are entirely will- 
ing to go... [and that the company will 
make satisfactory arrangements] for the 
proper care, protection, and remuneration 
of the Indians taken, and that it be dis- 
tinctly understood that the company will 
pay all the necessary traveling expenses 
in getting them into the reservation, and 

Chapter I. Occupants on the East: Crow 


returning them promptly to their homes at 
the close of the season" [Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park Archi-ves, Letters Sent, Vol. 8, 
April 15, 1899]. 

Within the time constraints of this research 
project no confirming documentation could be 
found as to whether any Indians actually pitched 
any tipis on Dot Island. 

But other opportunities did lure Indians to 
perform as Indians within the park. The well- 
known writer James Willard Schultz arranged for 
a "very interesting ceremony" at the Yellowstone 
geyser region in late spring, 1916. Entering by the 
Cody Road, the Indians were to present "the first 
ceremony of its kind given by the Crow Indians 
in the last 20 years," and a proposed film of the 
proceedings was considered to be compatible with 
an on-going "Shoshone project" related to the "See 
America First" promotion of recreational tourism 
in the country (National Park Service Archives, 
1912-18 Roads/Trails, Folder #342 "Opening 
Roads 1916, from letter by C.J. Blanchard, Stat- 
istician for the United States Reclamation Service 
to P.S. Eustis, Passenger Traffic Manager of the 
Burlington Railroad, May 6, 1916). In 1924, for 
instance, a number of Arapahoes and other tribes- 
men, the old warrior Goes In Lodge among them, 
participated in the controversial filming of the 
Hollywood studio production, The Thundering 
Herd, within the park (Wind River Mountaineer, 
V. 7, N. 1 , Jan-March 1991). It is not clear whether 
this experience was the springboard for a "color- 
ful pageant" which was held the following year 
near the buffalo ranch in the Lamar Valley between 
August 30th and September 6th. As described in 
the Yellowstone National Park's annual report for 
1925, each day witnessed a "western frontier 
round-up celebration:" 

The tame buffalo herd of over 700 animals, 
a score or more of Crow Indians from the 
nearby reservation dressed in the regalia 
and war paints of other days, and a few 
real western cowboys made the round-up 
a thrilling representation of the old days 
of the west. Visitors to the ranch during 
"buffalo plains week," as it was called, 
were taken from the ranch headquarters 
to the site of the round-up in the stage- 
coaches of former days, drawn by four and 

six horses. The Indian camps were of great 
interest to visitors. Typical camps with 
their tepees, open fires, travois, and handi- 
work of the tribe, and peopled with braves, 
squaws, and papooses, were a vivid re- 
minder of the fact that not so many years 
ago the ancestors of these very Indians 
roamed and hunted over the lands in this 
vicinity [Annual Report for Yellowstone 
National Park 1925, p. 16, Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park Archives]. 

But a more durable relationship between the 
park and Indians seems to have been underway 
only two years later, when an enterprising Crow 
Indian named Max Big Man was apparently pre- 
senting Indian material for tourists within the Yel- 
lowstone National Park. Born in 1886 of a Gros 
Ventre father and Crow mother, after attending the 
Crow Agency boarding school Big Man had 
struggled to become an independent rancher be- 
fore signing on with the Chicago, Burlington and 
Quincy Railroad in 1926 (Hoxie 1995:329). A 
meeter and greeter to outside visitors to the reser- 
vation at the Crow Agency train stop, and an as- 
piring political leader of the "progressive" stripe 
who often escorted Chief Plenty Coups and other 
old war chiefs to public functions. Big Man was 
also a promoter of Indian culture presentations for 
the Custer Battlefield Association and briefly left 
Montana to participate in a Columbia Broadcast- 
ing System radio series for Children in the Chi- 
cago and New York schools. But within the state 
he "frequently talked and danced for White men's 
and women's groups, including visitors to the 
Crow Reservation and nearby Yellowstone Park" 
(Heidenreich 1979:55). As Big Man personally 
wrote Mrs. Jesse Schultz Graham in early Febru- 
ary of 1927: 

I am planning now to go to the Park [Yel- 
lowstone] this coming summer where I am 
going to have different dances and little 
games that would interest the White 
people. I have a good tepee and I am try- 
ing to let the White people see how the 
Indians used to live in the old days, and 
lecture on different things. When I was a 
boy in school. I saw a show, and ever since 
then, I have taken an interest in shows and 
plays. I know just about what the White 
people would like to see and what inter- 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

ests them, because I have talked to differ- 
ent tourists and have learned from the 
questions they ask me [Big Man, in 
Heidenreich 1979:45]. 

Big Man's entrepreneurial relationship with 
the park would continue in various capacities at 
least until 1932, when he told stories and was fea- 
tured on the cover of the in-house park organ, Yel- 
lowstone Nature Notes (Big Man 1932). Appar- 
ently this visit, or another around the same time, 
inspired Big Man to write an article for a reserva- 
tion newspaper. Opening with his memories of the 
stories older Crows told him as a boy, about run- 
ning buffalo over cliffs, Big Man was especially 
interested when Charley Murphy, a Livingston 
rancher, had shown him actual jump sites near 
Murphy's Ox Yoke Ranch. Over the following 
days, attended by Fox Movietone cameramen, Big 
Man and Yellowstone National Park rangers, in- 
cluding one mixed-blood Flathead ranger who 
chided him about continuing to wear his hair long, 
rode their horses into view of elk, mountain sheep 
and buffalo. "As I was looking down," Big Man 
mused about the similarity between old days and 
the present, "I again thought about the stone age 
days of my people. . . As we came down from the 
mountain, the men were placed all along the trail, 
so the buffalo would not turn away from us and 
go over the mountain" (Hardin Tribune, January 
13, 1933). 

As for Big Man's relationship with Mrs. Gra- 
ham, daughter of the well-known popular writer 
about Blackfeet Indians, James Willard Schultz, 
they appear connected through their efforts on 
Mrs. Graham's grand pageant, Masque oftheAb- 
saroka, which hired Crow actors to launch a pub- 
lic dramatization of Crow origin mythology. Men- 
tion of this cultural production is appropriate here 
because of the strenuous efforts in late 1926 and 
early 1927 by its director, Jessie Louise Donaldson, 
to stage it within Yellowstone National Park (File 
Folder in YNP Archives, PAGEANTS, N. #139.91, 
Fiscal Year 1927, 1928). 

Planning for the Masque appears to have 
originated in 1926, when Ms. Schultz and two 
friends took the train to Crow Agency in order to 
solicit the collaboration of the tribe's Chief of 
Police Victor Three Irons and Max Big Man in a 
drama to be presented "at Montana State College 

to tell the story of the Crow Indians" (Big Man, in 
Heidenreich 1979:43). After a rocky start, a musi- 
cal presentation apparently cobbled together from 
Crow origin narratives and aspects of Tobacco 
Society ceremonialism was staged with a sizeable 
Crow cast in Bozeman. Although Ms. Schultz 
appears to have left the show by this point, it was 
still being heavily promoted in the closing months 
of the year by Miss Jessie Louise Donaldson, who 
managed to win its endorsement by a string of 
such distinguished Indian writers and sympathiz- 
ers as George Bird Grinnell and Frank Bird 

After a detailed projection of the mutual re- 
sponsibilities and considerable investment in terms 
of money and personnel involved in mounting the 
Crow-acted Masque in Yellowstone National Park, 
itemized by Ms. Donaldson in a letter to Park Su- 
perintendent Horace M. Albright, the superinten- 
dent felt compelled to draft a somewhat discour- 
aging reply. Although he apologetically admitted 
that his earlier letters to Donaldson had been en- 
couraging about the idea, and also commenting 
that the National Park Service remained "very 
much interested in productions such as you are 
planning," he now worried that its scale and costs 
might be prohibitive (Albright to Donaldson, Janu- 
ary 20, 1927; Yellowstone National Park Archives, 
Mammoth). In fact, a typed confidential memo 
between park officials affixed to one piece of of- 
ficial correspondence to Donaldson suggests that 
the park staff actually harbored more substantial 
doubts about the project. It reads: "To me, the at- 
tached doesn't seem to be suited for presentation 
in a National Park. I really can't see a great deal 
of connection it has to the Yellowstone and, of 
course, the Indian problem is going to be a hard 
one to solve in case they want to use real Indians. 
How does it appeal to you?" To this communica- 
tion, Albright replied, "It can be worked out, I 
think, although we may have some troubles" 
(Albright file December 29, 1926; Yellowstone 
National Park Archives, Mammoth). 

Whatever were the private connotations be- 
hind this mention of "the Indian problem" and 
"real Indians," the park appeared to have avoided 
the obligations which presenting the Masque 
would have entailed, although Mr. and Mrs. 
Albright apparently did attend its presentation in 

Chapter I. Occupants on the East: Crow 63 

the less controversial setting of Bozeman on the 
night of June 6th, 1927. As for the National Park 
Service's participation in other pageants, as Su- 
perintendent Albright had already written Ms. 
Donaldson in greater detail, Washington had ac- 
tually appointed a Mr. Garnet Holms as its "Pag- 
eant Master," and had produced pageants at other 
Indian-connected national landmarks such as 
California's Yosemite and Sequoia Parks, 
Arizona's Casa Grande National Monument, 
and the Ramona play in southern California, 
among others. As far as Yellowstone was con- 
cerned, however, there may also have been a 
behind-the-scenes story of competing pageants 
and alternating scenarios for the region's crucial 
history which contributed to the apparent drop- 
ping of the idea of holding the Masque within the 

For around the same time that the Masque 
was under original development by Ms. Schultz 
at Crow Agency, what appears to be the first at- 
tempt to present a historical pageant within Yel- 
lowstone National Park did take place, in late 
August 1926. Before an audience of nearly a thou- 
sand visitors, the open-air spectacle of Discovery 
of the Yellowstone Park featured, according to the 
Great Falls Tribune: 

...various times in Yellowstone's history 
in four scenes. Indians and old-timers-even 
the Washburn-Langford explorers of 1870- 
returned to the park... The entire pageant 
portrays the dream of the old-timer who 

returns to Yellowstone for the first time 
since the '70s. First the redskins, with their 
legends about the formation of the gey- 
sers and the Grand Canyon, then the party 
of exploration and finally the "savages" 
of today appear in his dreams [Great Falls 
Tribune, August 24, 1926]. 

The following summer, another pageant, this 
time with a more palatable Indian theme than the 
Masque apparently offered, was presented by the 
employees of the Old Faithful camp. Falling back 
on Longfellow's Hiawatha for its general plotline. 
the amateur actors were non-Indians who resur- 
rected a story which climaxed with Hiawatha in- 
troducing his people to a Jesuit missionary. Upon 
their embrace of the kingdom of Christ. Hiawatha 
was free to depart for a finale journey towards the 
setting sun, to the strains of Dvorak's "Indian La- 
ment." The melodrama's connection to the per- 
sisting Vanishing Indian motif was not lost on a 
local newspaper reviewer: 

The curling smoke of the pipe of peace 
that was offered to the [Jesuit] priest re- 
minds one of the poem by P. W. Norris who 
was formerly a superintendent of the Yel- 
lowstone park, and in it, which was called 
the Calumet of the Coteau. various pic- 
tures of Indian life were depicted, though 
now the aroma of the kinnikinick has also 
gone into the quiet places beyond the sun 
with the passing of the redmen [Livingston 
Enterprise, July 31, 1927]. 

Figure 1.9. The Indian 
pageant that never came 
to Yellowstone National 
Park. Cast of "The 
Masque of the Ahsaroka, " 
produced by Jessie 
Donaldson Schultz and 
Martha Maxex with the 
assistance of Max Big 
Man and Crow Indian 
actors (Photo from 
Liteways of Intermontanc 
and Plains Montana 
Indians, edited by Leslie 
B. Davis, Museum of the 
Rockies Occasional 
Papers. N.I, P)7V,p.42). 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Figure 1.10. Crow 
Indians during 
dedication of Plenty 
Coups Tablet on Cody 
Road (Photo courtesy of 
Yellowstone National 
Park Archives, Catalog 
#YELL 37805). 

Independent Indian craft-vending never 
seemed to gain a foothold in the park. Although 
before the establishment of the National Park Ser- 
vice in 1916, commercial stores in Yellowstone 
National Park were selling arrowheads to tourists, 
our research was unable to come up with evidence 
of more direct marketing of cultural identity until 
the 1920s, when the few Indians like Big Man tem- 
porarily joined commercial ventures within the 
park. While on March 9, 1937, the newly conceived 
Arts and Crafts Board of the U.S. Dept. of the 
Interior attempted to impose an Indian-made-only 
policy for "Indian jewelry" sold in the national 
park retail outlets, there appears to have been no 
encouragement that these "genuine" Indian ma- 
terials be of local or even regional origin (J.C. 
McCaskill, U.S. Department of Interior Indian Arts 
& Crafts Board General Manaer, to Eleanor K. 
Geary, Yellowstone National Park Company, April 
28, 1950, YNP Archives, Memos and Correspon- 
dence, 1942-1951, Box #C-33). There is even an- 
ecdotal evidence that at least one Indian was ac- 
tively discouraged from developing an entrepre- 
neurial presence in the park. According to a story 
purportedly related to Alston Chase by a former 
North District Ranger in Yellowstone, "Not long 
ago" an Indian businessman wanted to position a 
tipi-shaped gift shop near Roosevelt Lodge. When 
the Indian learned that his concession permit had 
been denied because the building would detract 
from the lodge, which was under nomination for 

listing on the National Register of Historic Places, 
the Indian is said to have asked in so many words, 
"How can a white man's building be more his- 
torical than an Indian tepee?" (Chase 1987:107, ft. 
48 — Chase remembers hearing the story from 
Ranger David Spirtes, personal communication 
July 30, 1995). 

When our principal Crow consultant accom- 
panied his family into the Yellowstone National 
Park area, they were the ones who were now, for- 
mally at least, in the category of tourists. But that 
did not mean that they forgot their oldest cultural 
memories of the Yellowstone region, which in- 
cluded that category of Crow prose narratives that 
explained how the world in its present form was 
first created. 

Among the oldest of Crow story-cycles is 
that which relates the deeds of Old Woman's 
Grandson (Kdalisbaapitua), a character who func- 
tions in the classic role of "culture hero." Not sur- 
prisingly, we also find this important character 
prominent in the folklore of their old kinfolk, the 
Hidatsas, to the east, as well as in that of their 
neighbors, the Mandan. As the offspring of the 
Sun and a Crow Woman, in the Crow version Old 
Woman's Grandson is usually described as raised 
by a powerful and often demonic grandmother fig- 
ure following the death of his human mother. Af- 

Chapter I. Occupants on the East: Crow 65 

ter maturing to young manhood with remarkable 
speed, he undertakes the killing of a generation of 
monsters who rule the world. When he has finally 
readied the world for human occupation, he often 
turns into the north star, while his grandmother 
becomes the moon. 

For the Crow people at least some of the en- 
vironmental characteristics that define Yellow- 
stone National Park apparently came about 
through the heroic deeds of this mythic personal- 
ity. One narrative from the Pryor area discusses 
the origins of two features possibly from the Mud 
Volcano area. This version of the basic narrative 
originates from a southern River Crow man named 
Sharp Horn, who passed it on to his son Comes 
Up Red, who told it to his son, whose son, GBT, 
related it for our study. During our interview with 
this consultant he described the following episode 
as a portion of the longer cycle of stories about 
the mythic deeds of Old Woman's Grandchild. The 
first time GBT told the story it came out like this: 

...there was a part where the boy kills a 
big buffalo bull who sucks in people. A 
giant buffalo bull that sucks in and eats 
people. When the boy killed that giant buf- 
falo bull, he turned him into that. That's 
what he turned into. 

Then he put a giant mountain lion right 
next to it to keep him in check. To keep 
the bull from coming back. That is what 
the old people said happened. The old gi- 
ant buffalo is the one that sucks out the 
hot blast of air. And then that other hole 
makes a growling sound. So they say that 
is the mountain lion that keeps the buffalo 
bull in check [GBT Interview, July 16, 1996]. 

A bit later in the interview GBT elaborated 
on the story, remembering some additional details: lather was told by his grandfathers 
that this [the thermal region of the park] 
was where the Grandchild, the Old Lady's 
Grandchild, fought all of the beasts and 
killed them, and turned them into moun- 
tains and hills after he killed them. Then 
he turned the giant buffalo into a geyser's 
formation. I guess Colter's Hell |GBT later 
identified Colter's Hell as Mud Volcano 
and Dragon's Mouth | is the present name 
for it. It blows hot air out, and for twelve 

miles windward of it all of the trees are 
dead. Even animals would die in the old 
days. But it is not as strong as it used to 
be. He said I will turn you into this, and 
then he put another geyser formation there. 
The other geyser formation roars all of the 
time. It just makes a sound. He said that 
was a mountain lion, to keep the buffalo 
bull in check, from coming back to life 
again and harassing the Crows. That was 
the reason [GBT Interview. July 16. 1996]. 
Another mythic narrative told by the Crow 
and associated with the park was related by this 
consultant directly on the shores of Yellowstone 
Lake. It links the earlier theme of the death-of- 
the-monsters with the strongest variety of super- 
natural medicine a Crow can receive — that be- 
stowed by the Thunderbird. In terms of the Crow 
conceptual categories which make up the culture's 
world-view, this narrative also ties together the 
three forces and environmental features which still 
today make the Yellowstone region so unique — 
the benevolent high mountains, the threatening 
depths of the great lake, and the hot rocks whose 
power only a human being can harness. Our con- 
sultant received the rights to this story from the 
man who had adopted him into the Crow Tobacco 
Society, FR, who had heard it from his own grand- 
father. But he prefaced it by emphasizing that "Our 
legends say that the Sun created the first Crow on 
Yellowstone River, which we call Elk River. The 
Crows have always lived here." In this narrative 
and the one to follow — in both of which Yellow- 
stone Lake seems to play almost a character role — 
we will also catch an echo of the relationship be- 
tween birds and the lake which Hunts-To-Die men- 
tioned earlier in his equation of driftwood with 
eagle feathers: 

The story begins when the Crows were 
camped at the junction of Pryor Creek and 
the Yellowstone River. A man was sitting 
on a high hill on the east side of Pryor 
Creek one day. He was making arrows and 
looking out. He was the lookout. 

Suddenly from out of the sky the 
Thunderbird came and grabbed him by his 
hair. When he grabbed him he said "Do 
not be afraid." So this man was not afraid 
when the Thunderbird erabbed him. Then 

66 Indians .nul Yellowstone National Park 

he brought him over here to overlook, 
Overlook Mountain. It is on the southeast 
side of the lake where we are at right now. 

So the Thunderbird took him to the top of 
the mountain. His nest was there. So he 
put him in the nest. He said, "what do you 
need for food? What do you need to stay 
alive." The man said, "Bring me a young 
buffalo," and he said, "I need water." He 
[Thunderbird] said "all the water you need 
is here." So he brought him a young buf- 
falo calf. When the man finished eating 
he asked the Thunderbird why he brought 
him there. 

He said, "this is my nest. This is where I 
live." Then he showed him Yellowstone 
Lake, which the Crows have no name for 
except that we call it the Big Lake, the 
Large Lake. He said, "Down there mon- 
sters live in the water and nearby. When I 
lay my eggs, and the fledglings come out, 
on the third day that they come out, all of 
the beasts come and they eat the little ones. 
I am constantly at war with these beasts." 

He said, "I know you are my allies, be- 
cause I know that you constantly fight 
these monsters also." He said, "I want you 
to kill... there is one certain one that al- 
ways comes up and eats the fledglings 
when they are three days old." He said, "I 
will bring you anything that you need to 
kill this water beast that lives in the lake." 

So the man fasted, and he didn't know 
what to do at first. He said, "You have 
greater powers than I. How is it that you 
cannot kill this beast?" He [Thunderbird] 
said, "Our powers are about the same and 
that is why I cannot kill him." He said, 
"You have reason, you have your mind to 
reason. You can think out a way to kill him. 
That is why I brought you here." 

So the man fasted, and thought, and finally 
he saw in his dream. . .he was told how he 
could kill this beast that would eat the 
three-day old Thunderbirds. He was told 
to dig pits, and to build big fires, and to 
put rocks on it. Certain sized rocks, that 
he could pick up with a forked stick. He 
was told that the monster, when he came 

up the mountain, would open his mouth. 
He said, "Throw as many hot rocks as he 
could into his mouth. And then dig another 
pit and put hides in it. Great big hides, and 
fill it with water and boil it. When it is 
boiling, make sure that you have a way to 
pick it up. Put saplings around it so that 
you can pick it up. When it is close enough 
pour the hot water into his mouth. That 
way you will kill him, you see." 

So the eggs were about ready to hatch. 
When they hatched, they had everything 
ready. All of the rocks, and all of the wood 
that they needed for the fire. Then on the 
third day, they saw the beast coming up the 
mountain. So they got ready, and they built 
a big fire and got all of the hot rocks that 
they needed, and they also boiled water. 

Then when the beast came up, the man 
would pick up the hot rocks with his stick 
and would throw them into his mouth, as 
much as he could. Then when he got close 
enough, he poured this hot water into his 
mouth. Then steam came out of his mouth, 
and then he tumbled down into the lake. 
When he hit the lake the water splashed, 
and went up about as high as the moun- 
tain, when it hit the water. 

They say that the man who killed the last 
dinosaur.... which doesn't mean anything 
in our language anymore, it is so old. They 
say that was the last dinosaur. They have 
never seen any dinosaurs after that [GBT 
Interview, July 16, 1996]. 

The second narrative which GBT associated 
with Yellowstone Lake he heard from both his 
grandfather, Comes Up Red, and also from a man 
named George Goes Ahead, 

There was a war party. A man named [?] 
— I don't know what it means, I guess it's 
too old to translate — led a war party. They 
came to Yellowstone Lake. Although they 
were fearful of it, they did not want to go 
into it, they are drawn to it because of its 
power, and the mystical quality. 

They came to the lake and they saw a swan, 
way down, almost in the middle of the 
lake. This war party leader said he needed 

Chapter I. Occupants on the East: Crow 67 

Figure 7.77. Crow consultant GBTat Yellowstone 
Lake, checking over park cultural sites with 
Lawrence Loendorf, 1995. 

the feathers of this swan. In his vision he 
was told to get certain feathers and the 
swan's feathers fit the description. So he 
asked if anyone could swim out there and 
get this swan. All of the men were scared. 
They did not want to swim out there and 
get this swan. 

But there was one young boy in the war 
party. He was willing to go out there. He 
said, "Older brother, let me swim out there. 
I can swim out there and get that bird for 
you." But they didn't want him to go. Be- 
cause all of the men were supposed to be 
brave and courageous and they showed 
their fear. They didn't want to be put down 
by this young boy. They said, "No, don't 
go out there, you don't know what you are 
getting yourself into." 

Finally he said, "Just let me go out there a 
little ways. If something bad happens, I 
can swim back." They said go ahead. The 
young boy swam into the lake and went 
out there and caught the swan, and came 

back with it. Then all of the men to show 
their courage swam to the lake and came 
back. After that they were not as fearful as 
they were of the lake |GBT Interview July 
6, 1995]. 

Although this second story is also about a 
Crow contest with the dangers of Yellowstone 
Lake, it concerns a more psychological and physi- 
cal conflict with place than the previous narra- 
tive, which dealt with a supernatural encounter 
with "spirit-beings" of the location. When Goes 
Ahead spoke to our consultant of this story of the 
war party and the swan, he had envisioned it oc- 
curring "in our time, in our era, [but] my grandfa- 
ther said it was way back." This subtle shift in 
temporal context seems to problematize whether 
the latter narrative fell more into the category of a 
"myth" like the first story, a genre which accord- 
ing to canons of folklore scholarship refers to prose 
narratives which "are considered to be truthful 
accounts of what happened in the remote past" 
and are regarded as sacred truth and take place in 
a far different world (Bascom 1984:9). Or did it 
belong more properly in the category of "legends," 
which Bascom says are regarded "as true by the 
narrator and his audience, but they are set in a 
period considered less remote, when the world was 
much as it is today?" 

When our principal Crow consultant tried 
to resolve the dilemma about what sort of narra- 
tive this final story was, like many contemporary 
Indians he reached for the English language cat- 
egory which he felt would hold greatest truth-value 
for his non-Crow listeners. Of its storyline about 
the commencement of a new, more equitable kind 
of relationship between his people and earlier spir- 
its associated with Yellowstone Lake, he stated 
simply, "It was part of our history." 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Chapter 2 

Wayfarers from the North 


It is an inescapable fact that after well over a 
hundred years of their absence from the Yellowstone 
Plateau, documentation on the precise topography 
which was covered by parties of Blackfeet, Flathead, 
Pend d' Oreille and Kootenai who penetrated the 
greater Yellowstone ecosystem is hard to come by. 
This means that any place-names for the plateau and 
its entry ways, or oral traditions and accounts of cul- 
tural practices which might link these tribes and the 
park area proper, are rare. For unlike the Crow to 
the east and Shoshone to the south, the hunting ter- 

ritories of these northerly tribes, as delineated at least 
in early treaties, rarely overlapped that of Yellow- 
stone National Park — although these distinct ethnic 
groups certainly claimed hunting rights to vaster 
territories than their reservation areas today. Fur- 
thermore, these Indian travelers left scantier mate- 
rial evidence of their experiences in the Yellowstone 
region — with the exception of the occasionally 
dropped or discarded tools or weapons, which are 
next to impossible to identify as to tribal provenance 
even if one is lucky enough to locate them today. 

Figure 2.1. Yellowstone Park Superintendent Horace Albright adopted by Crow Indians at the Gallatin Gateway 
opening to the north of the park, 1927 (Photo courtesy of Yellowstone National Park Archives, Catalog #Yell 37799-2). 

Chapter 2. Blackfeet and Flathead 69 

And finally, during the historical period many of 
these northern tribes people were actively trying to 
cover up their tracks, since their purpose was often 
to hunt and forage or travel without notice, and to 
take horses, furs or weapons from any enemy tribes 
people or non-Indians who were traversing, trap- 
ping or camping in or around the park area. None- 
theless, we have gathered and organized what in- 
formation we could uncover concerning their move- 
ments, and their possible cultural associations and 
claims with the region, and more will surely come 
to light in the future. 

Up and Down the Yellowstone: 
A Northern Entrance 

Parties of Indian travelers such as the Flathead 
and Blackfeet reached the northern rim of the Yel- 
lowstone Plateau through the Bridger or Flathead 
passes out of present-day Bozeman, or they arrived 
there by dropping south from the Crazy Mountains 
by way of the Shields River. These two access trails 
which then brought them into the inner sanctum of 
present-day Yellowstone National Park could hardly 
stand in greater contrast. 

The first trail opened two-thirds of the way 
west along the park's northern perimeter and offered 
a relatively gentle gateway to the high country. In 
its broad curve between the Absaroka and Gallatin 
mountain ranges, this was the long welcoming cor- 
ridor of the upper Yellowstone River valley which 
would eventually lead them directly into the park 
proper. At this point the Flathead, Pend d' Oreille 
and Blackfeet, who would have already ventured 
many days from the upper ranges of present-day 
Montana, eventually entered the trough of the Para- 
dise Valley, about thirty miles long and ten to twelve 
miles wide, just south of today's Livingston. Here 
was also one of those unusual moments when it was 
necessary to head "down" in order to go "up" against 
the river, as the Yellowstone flows north into Mon- 

As the traveling Indian parties paralleled the 
river, moving steadily upstream by means of easily 
traveling flat terraces and halting occasionally in the 

shade of cottonwoods along its banks to feed their 
horses from its nourishing inner bark during the 
winter, they were probably well aware of the pres- 
ence of older Indian encampments all along the way. 
Just past Livingston, for instance, they passed be- 
tween deserted old Indian sites positioned on both 
opposing ridges of the river. The camp location on 
the western bank (Brawner I and II. 24PA503) was 
recent enough to have had cooking hearths used by 
their own relatives, but according to archeological 
estimates the site on the opposite ridge (Myers- 
Hindman, 24PA504) would have seen Indian fires 
nearly nine thousand years before then (Lahren 

Among the thousands of old Indian sites along 
this major native trade route into Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park, according to archaeologist Larry Lahren. 
is the terrace above Emigrant where one can still 
pick out miles-long rows of stones — remnants of 
an old Indian buffalo jump (in Billings Gazette. July 
6, 1995, p. 4B). Such locations would have made 
Indian travelers like the Blackfeet feel at home; back 
north their yearly round involved stopping at fixed 
winter campsites when the buffalo were fat and 
prime for driving the animals into the boulder drive- 
lines they called piskun (Barrett 1921:23). In one of 
its rare references to any Indians whatsoever in the 
Yellowstone valley, an early guidebook to Yellow- 
stone National Park mentions how early white settle- 
ment in the fertile Paradise Valley attracted "Indian 
marauders." But since this was only ten years after 
the Nez Perce troubles in the park, the guide imme- 
diately felt obliged to assuage any anxieties with an 
all-clear advisory: "But fear of Indian attack has now 
forever passed away" (Hyde 1887:18-19). 

Long appreciated as a rich archaeological area, 
as early as 1893 William S. Brackett described the 
"Indian forts" he noticed on the river benches above 
this stretch of the Yellowstone River, and the tipi 
rings that lay farther into the mountains. He also 
stressed other "interesting remains left by Indians 
who lived and hunted in this fertile valley as late as 
the year 1876" which he found in local ranches, es- 
pecially at one which lay "opposite Emigrant Peak, 
where I am writing" (Brackett 1893:127). Continu- 
ing upstream through this Park County corridor, ar- 
chaeologist Lahren guesses there are an average of 
"two or more archaeological sites per square mile." 

70 American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Especially promising locations were found, predict- 
ably, wherever creek drainages such as Six Mile and 
Tom Miner Creeks offered proximity to water and 
wood, shelter from wind and sun, or, as in the Tom 
Miner Basin, where topographic conditions allowed 
for a buffalo jump, with attendant tipi rings, stone 
corrals, drive lines and kill sites (Lahren 1971). 

Forging beyond Tom Miner Creek any expe- 
rienced Indian wayfarers heading south would have 
squeezed through the river's constricted bend at Yan- 
kee Jim Canyon only to spy increasing signs of older 
Indian camping and hunting sites. Emerging from 
this canyon, for instance, they would have skirted 
one very old Indian camp on the eastern bank, right 
on the valley floor (Rigler Bluffs, 24PA401). Since 
its rock-lined hearth lay beneath twenty-two feet of 
river silt, the passersby were unaware of the fact 
that walnut-sized chunks of charcoal (identified as 
yew wood), probably five thousand years old, lay 
within it (Haines 1966; Lahren 1971:170). At the 
same time any Flatheads traveling by would have 
prized the yew (which still grows in the Bitterroot 
Valley), for it was the preferred wood for bow-mak- 
ing. A prominent Flathead elder named Pete Bea- 
verhead remembered the process: first season the 
wood before carving it down to form, then varnish it 
with a concoction of boiled animal muscle and sinew 
before stringing and shooting with it (Hart 1976:49). 

Continuing towards the present-day town of 
Gardiner, the Indian travelers would have beaten 
against the cooling winds that regularly sweep down 
from the upper river channel to replace the rising 
lowland heat. As the landscape grows progressively 
drier near the present-day park entrance, they neared 
a prominent mountain to their right that regularly 
seemed to attract lighting strikes. In the high volca- 
nic talus that overlooks the river trail opposite Elec- 
tric Peak stood another old Indian site of which the 
scouts accompanying these travelers were almost 
certainly aware. Over the years various explanations 
have been offered for these pits which were scooped 
out of the chunky, loose rocks and covered with well- 
aged pieces of crudely chopped wood. Were they 
vision-questing sites, observation posts or, as local 
folklore has it, pits for catching eagles? Our conjec- 
ture is hunting blinds, as will be discussed in Chap- 
ter 3. 

Just northwest of the present park boundary, 

Figure 2.2. Probable Indian hunting blind (screen 
bottom) across from Electric Peak overlooking 
Yellowstone River, 1996. 

the Indian visitors could see the heights of Mount 
Everts, which they probably knew was another mag- 
net for earlier natives. Closer to the river trail, among 
other old sites in the immediate vicinity of Mam- 
moth Hot Springs, was the fifty-two-meter rock 
alignment strung out along a glacial ridge, which 
indicates a drive line or a religious site and prom- 
ises "to yield important information on Native 
American life in the Mammoth region" (Sanders et 
al. 1996:39^42). By this time any native visitors from 
the north would be approaching the Yellowstone 
heartland, and surely on the lookout for other tribes- 
men who ventured there in search of game, miner- 
als, or the other Indian trails that exited the plateau 
to the south and east. 

Up the Beartooth Pass: 
A Northeastern Entrance 

But the second old path which allowed access 
from the north into the Yellowstone Plateau de- 
manded a far more grueling exertion from any in- 
bound natives. Lifting out of Red Lodge not far from 
the park's northeastern corner, its sketchy remnants 
can still be spotted zig-zagging almost straight up 
alongside today's Beartooth Highway. To the Crow 
Indians the location of the present-day town of Red 
Lodge was known as "Where the Red Lodge Was 
Annihilated" (Ashhishalahaawiio). This name origi- 
nated from the Crow account of killing by Shos- 

Chapter 2. Blackfeet and Flathead 71 

hone warriors of an entire Crow band, thirty lodges 
strong, which were led by a camp chief with the 
name of "The Red Lodge," and which included his 
brother, "The Yellow Lodge." The tragedy occurred 
along the banks of Red Lodge's present-day Rock 
River, which was referred to by the Crow as "Fast 
Current" (Biliiliikashee) (Old Coyote and Old Coy- 
ote 1985:7). • 

As for the trail whose traces still ascend the 
side of the present-day Beartooth Pass, here Indians 
like the Crows, Blackfeet, Assiniboine and others 
would have faced a much harder road, for it forced 
them to clamber back and forth up the single-file 
footpath which lifted 2,000 feet at a sheer incline. 
Once this exhausting ascent to nearly 11,000 feet 
above sea level was accomplished, the subsequent 
leg to the Cooke City area and the present-day park 
entrance would have seemed like a breeze. Anyone 
who tries to hike that old Indian route today can 
quickly appreciate why the early Cooke City min- 
ers probably preferred the easier, if lengthier, sup- 
ply route which tracked the Yellowstone River far- 
ther north. At the same time it might be a mistake to 
hypothesize only meager Indian use or even occu- 
pation of these granite, snowy highlands with their 
mirror-like lakes simply because non-Indians today 
find them cold, forbidding and grizzly-infested. 
Former game warden Verne Waples found hundreds 
of arrowheads and other artifacts around these lakes, 
and old Indian sites continue to turn up on the 
Beartooth Plateau, as archaeologist George Arthur 
has written of the region: 

Several large private collections of artifacts 
recovered from high elevation sites in the 
Beartooth Mountains west of Red Lodge, 
Montana, add further support for Early Pe- 
riod occupancy throughout this large area. 
The Early Period artifacts suggest, inferen- 
tially. that similar environments and cultural 
events existed during this period on both 
sides of the Rockies and throughout the 
mountains of Southern Montana. A similar 
cultural homogeneity is inferred for both the 
Middle and Late Prehistoric Periods, so that 
the Rocky Mountains may not be considered 
a barrier to culture | Arthur 1968:53). 

While there has been little archaeological ef- 
fort to reconstruct the skimpy remains of this steep 

Beartooth Pass footpath, we do have other clues that 
Indians were at least familiar with its alpine habitat. 
Near the head of Little Rock and Bennett Creeks on 
the plateau and beside Leg Lake, in 1891 a Red Lodge 
cowboy found a crude log "stockade" which one 
U.S. ranger conjectured may have been built by early 
trappers and their Indian wives who conceivably led 
them there (Rollinson 1942: 1 38-1 39). Additionally, 
we know that tribespeople around the Yellowstone 
Plateau could be quite familiar with areas distant 
from their immediate terrain: just as it was Crows 
on the Yellowstone who first informed mountain 
man Tom Fitzpatrick of the whereabouts of the im- 
portant pass (South Pass) through the Wind River 
mountains in order that his trappers could easily find 
beaver streams on the other side (in Hafen 1981:339). 
so it would be Wind River Shoshones and Sheep 
Eaters who apparently guided Lt. Gen. PH. 
Sheridan's first military expedition across the 
Beartooth Plateau in August 1882 (Gregory 

Place-names can also provide indirect linkage 
between cultural groups and specific geography. In 
a 1979 affidavit by Walter F Columbus, in which he 
remembered his days as transit man on a surveying 
crew between Red Lodge and Cooke City in the 
summer of 1920, Columbus stated that the sole 
mountain place-name on their maps at the time was 
Beartooth Butte. "I recall talking to some old-tim- 
ers in Cooke City," testified Columbus, "who said 
that Beartooth Mountain was named by Indians be- 
cause of a prominent rock which looked like a bear's 
tooth. They did not say what tribe of Indians but 
there was a tribe of Sheep Eaters who were familiar 
with the Yellowstone area" (Columbus. November 
6, 1979). From the Crow Indian perspective comes 
a bit more detail, thanks to information provided 
by tribal historian Joseph Medicine Crow. Respond- 
ing to a request for information from a public infor- 
mation specialist at the Helena National Forest of- 
fice regarding the origin of the Beartooth place- 
name. Medicine Crow sought out some elderly 
Crows, and then wrote back: 

Unfortunately the old tribal historians, keep- 
ers of tribal annals and oral traditions, are 
gone now and I must find people who had 
recalled the old story tellers mentioning cer- 
tain events, etc. 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

One old lady related that her grandmother 
used to refer to the whole mountain area 
around Red Lodge as DAK-PIT-CHAY 
IGOTUSH, meaning 'Bear's Small Teeth'. 
Several other informants agreed with this 
version; but none of them is certain about 
the origin of the description. I am inclined 
to believe that such a description is based on 
a distant view of the whole area, particularly 
the jagged looking horizon which may re- 
semble a bear's teeth from a side view. 

Another informant, raised by his old grand 
parents, recalled his grandmother using the 
which means, 'Bear's Tusk' or 'Bear's Small 
Tusk'. This informant believes that this de- 
scription referred of a particular rock forma- 
tion in the mountains but later the whole area 
was known by singular term. . . 

It is feasible that the original Crow descrip- 
tion of a particular rock formation resem- 
bling a bear's tusk or fang in time was used 
to include a general area. This would take 
place after 1700-25 when the ancestral tribe 
of the Crow Indians came into this area after 
a long migration trek taking nearly 1 00 years 
[Medicine Crow to Helena National Forest, 
February 20, 1980]. 

To this hint of Crow familiarity we can add a 
piece of Blackfeet data regarding the Beartooth 
Mountain locale. On a map for which a Blackfeet 
"Chief named Ac Ko Mok Ki, or "the Feathers," 
provided information to a Hudson Bay Co. fur trader 
in 1801, the Indian offered some interesting glimpses 
of the broad extent of Blackfeet familiarity with the 
Plains (Moodie and Kaye 1977). Along the eastern 
side of the Rocky Mountains he clearly indicated 
Ki oo pe kis, or "Bears Tooth," by which he appar- 
ently was referring to the same mountains mentioned 
by Medicine Crow above, lying at Latitude 45 de- 
grees north in the Absaroka Range. And when it 
came to identifying the entire range by a single prom- 
ontory he seems to have effected the submersion of 
the singular into the plural which Medicine Crow 
suggests was the same process that gave the moun- 
tains their name today. 

Then Stuart W. Conner added a final piece of 
evidence for an old Indian presence on the Beartooth 
Plateau. From Vern Waples of Red Lodge, Montana, 
he heard the following story, which also illustrates 
the pool of local lore which formal studies and sur- 
veys too often overlook. It seems that in 1936, shortly 
after the Beartooth Highway was completed, Waples 
was searching for a conical timber lodge which he, 
in turn, had heard about from Dominick Reno, who 
ran a store at Beartooth Lake. Looking near the 
USFS fire lookout on the west side of the Beartooth 
Highway and overlooking the Clarks Fork valley, 
Waples found a circle of 13 buffalo skulls "in pretty 
good shape" (Stuart Conner, personal communica- 
tion, August 11, 1993). No additional information or 
photographs have come to light about this site. Al- 
though none of these circles has been found in Yel- 
lowstone National Park, such ritual circles of buf- 
falo skulls are known on the high Plains; some say 
Indian hunters laid them out as a magical way to 
attract buffalo (see painting of buffalo skull circles 
by Alfred Jacob Miller, Barsness 1977:86). 

The foregoing discussion is not meant to im- 
ply that these routes, up the Yellowstone River and 
over the Beartooth Pass, were the sole means of ac- 
cess for northern Indians into the park landscape. 
As some northern Indian visitors quietly told Park 
Service officials when they were visiting in 1993, 
"We used those major trails, but we had many ways 
of getting into the park" (David Ruppert, NPS Re- 
gional Ethnographer, personal communication, Au- 
gust 9, 1996). Members of tribes as far north as the 
Canadian border did travel widely and over ex- 
tremely long distances, and they frequently entered 
the park or passed within the rain shadow alongside 
it. As their own narratives and recorded geographic 
knowledge, as well as the chronicles of non-Indi- 
ans, make very clear, tribesmen from the Blackfeet, 
Flathead, Kootenai and Assiniboine nations could 
penetrate the park's mountainous perimeter and cir- 
culate within it at will. Or they skirted its eastern or 
western boundaries on long-distance travels far- 
ther south, in order to make the annual Green 
River trade rendezvous in Shoshone country, or 
even to venture still deeper into the Southwest 
and beyond to Mexico. 

Chapter 2. Blackfeet and Flathead 73 

Blackfeet Towards the 
"Many Smoke" 

In the chronicles of Indian-white as well as 
Indian-Indian relations related to the Yellowstone 
Plateau in the first half of the 19th century, few tribes 
are as associated with hit-and-run raids as the 
Blackfeet, who hailed from country along both sides 
of the U.S.-Canada border. By at least 1775 this size- 
able tribe had become a linguistically-homogeneous 
Plains Indian group who were already major play- 
ers in early European exploration and economic ex- 
ploitation of the northern Plains. All of their three 
politically independent divisions spoke dialects of 
the same Algonquian stock, but only one of them 
possessed territories which spilled over the lands of 
the United States and Canada. Yet distance rarely 
deterred any of their warriors from going wherever 
they wanted. 

Today the members of the tribes collectively 
but incorrectly known as Blackfeet are increasingly 
preferring to be known by their old name, Natsitapii. 
According to Reeves and Peacock, they are com- 
posed of three tribes, the Kainaa, Piikani and Siksika, 
with the histories of sub-groups of these tribes, such 
as the South Piikani who traditionally hunted, col- 
lected plants, camped and conducted ceremonies in 
Glacier National Park, each following their own, 
unique trajectory (Reeves and Peacock 1995:3). The 
most northerly division of the three tribal groups 
were the Siksika, whose upper boundary was the 
Northern Branch of the Saskatchewan River. Be- 
tween the Battle and Bow Rivers lay the land of the 
Blood, or Kainawa. But the territory of the third 
division, the Piikani, stretched along the mountains 
and dropped well south of the border, past Glacier 
Park and, say the early scholars George Bird Grinnell 
(1912) and Walter McClintock (1910), actually extend- 
ing well towards the Yellowstone River (Steward 
1934:3). One band of Piikani, known as the Small 
Robes, even developed a special affinity for the 
southland, intermarrying with Flatheads and settling 
near the Musselshell River (Ewers 1955:216-217). 

In the late 18th century David Thompson heard 
of a sizeable Piegan war party which, unable to lo- 
cate any Shoshones to raid, had ventured farther 

south to intercept a Spanish column of pack ani- 
mals. Descending upon them, the Indians forced the 
Spaniards to flee. The Blackfeet tossed away their 
cargo, which turned out to be silver ore, and drove 
the animals an estimated 1500 miles home (in Ew- 
ers 1958:197). The validity of this account is under- 
scored by explorer Alexander Mackenzie, who char- 
acterized the Blackfeet of 1800 as an adventuresome, 
far-ranging people, "who deal in horses and take 
them upon war parties towards Mexico, from which 
they enter into the country to the south-east, which 
consists of plains" (quoted in McClintock 1910:3). 
It is also reinforced by a story reported by James 
Doty of a Blackfeet trip in the mid-1840s which took 
three years and transported about five of their chiefs 
to Taos and Santa Fe (Ewers 1955:198-199). 

Obviously the Blackfeet warriors could strike 
wherever they desired, from the Rockies to the Mis- 
sissippi, from northern Canada down through the 
southwestern deserts, with stabs into the Yellowstone 
Plateau in between. And fairly clearly they were fa- 
miliar with its interior. While accompanying some 
Blackfeet on a hunt in the Missouri-Yellowstone 
country in spring, 1865. a Jesuit priest named Father 
Xavier Kuppens was regaled by a chief named Big 
Lake "on the beauties of that wonderful spot." His 
curiosity was so great that Kuppens persuaded some 
young warriors to guide him into the park area, 
whereupon they escorted him directly to its "chief 
attraction" — the Grand Canyon and the Firehole 
basins (Kuppens 1962:7). 

Around 1800, when the Blackfeet made their 
earliest historically documented entry into the his- 
tory of the Yellowstone Plateau, they numbered 
conservatively 15,000 strong (Mooney 1928: 1 3), with 
one estimate of the size of their available warriors 
at the time reaching 9.000 (Jenness 1932:324 — quot- 
ing Alexander Mackenzie in 1801). By then, thanks 
to their fortuitous acquisition of both the gun (from 
European traders at the northern Plains posts) and 
the horse (from southern Plains Indian middlemen 
in the tribal horse trade), they had already succeeded 
in flexing their muscles on their southeastern bor- 
ders through Shoshone country and on into the Big- 
horn Mountains of the Crow. This burst of expan- 
sionism wound up pushing the Shoshones all the 
way back into their old Wyoming hunting grounds. 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Figure 2.3. Pelican Creek, site of Osborne Russell's 1839 battle with Blackfeet (Photo courtesy of Yellowstone 
National Park Archives, Catalog UYELL 37880). 

as the invaders attempted to occupy the territory in 
between. "Gradually," writes Ake Hultkrantz, 
"single bands of Blackfeet reached the Yellowstone 
Park (probably along the Gallatin and Yellowstone), 
and in the middle of the 19th century they claimed 
the plains next to the Rocky Mountains clear down 
to Yellowstone Park" (Hultkrantz 1957: 142, corrobo- 
rated by Schultz and Donaldson 1930:27). 

Entering the park area to trap beaver but more 
commonly to maraud the fur caches of American 
trappers for resale to British traders (Spence 
1996:22), the Blackfeet never pretended to call the 
Yellowstone region their own, in the fashion that 
they laid spiritual claim to the Rocky Mountain high- 
lands of Glacier National Park and the Badger- Two 
Medicine region (as excellently documented by 
Reeves and Peacock 1995). At the same time, they 
did accord the area special respect, according to in- 
terviews by Joseph Weixelman with Blackfeet el- 

George Kicking Woman identified the lands 
of Yellowstone as sacred, although not to the 
Blackfeet directly. Because they were sacred 
to others, they were treated as such by them. 
When passing through Yellowstone on the 
way to the basins of the Snake or Green riv- 
ers, they would stop to pray with their pipes 
or leave tobacco. Prayers might have espe- 
cially been said for a safe journey since travel 
was dangerous in the nineteenth century 
[Weixelman 1992:55]. 

By what routes the Blackfeet made their preda- 
tory forays into and around this landscape we have 
only a spotty record. But thanks to James Willard 
Schultz, there is one intriguing anecdote about a 
Piegan war party which traveled directly into the 
heart of what is now Yellowstone National Park. 
There they are said to have come upon what they 
took at first to be the smoke from a slew of camp- 
fires. But after night fell they could detect no flick- 

Chapter 2. Blackfeet and Flathead 75 

cring flames, and only later did they discover that 
what they had seen was the steam rising from the 
hot springs. Hence their name for the park's area of 
thermal activity: Aisitsi, or "Many Smoke" (Schultz 

Even some contemporary Blackfeet can recall 
hearing of such long-distance travels. One Blackfeet 
consultant, CCB, a Liaison, Program and Exhibi- 
tion Development employee at Calgary's Glenbow 
Museum, recalled a story told him by his grandfa- 
ther, Mark Mayfield, who belonged to "Chief Old 
Sun's clan" of the northerly Blackfeet and who died 
in 1991 at the age of 94: 

One day, he told me, they used to go as far 
as the Mexicans, go all the way down and 
come back. I would look at him and think, 
he was crazy, how could they get there? He 
said they would start when the grass starts 
to turn green, and sometimes they take a 
whole year to get back. Long, long time ago, 
a group of them were going south and came 
upon a huge lake. One old chief was very 
hot and went to the hills. He was cooling 
himself — it hardly ever snowed there — when 
behind him came a ripple. Through his legs 
came this monster and it burned or did some- 
thing to him. The chief said to the Thunder 
God that he didn't do anything. Can you help 
me in stopping this creature? Then thunder 
came down, and a huge tornado sucked up 
that monster, and they left. The following 
year when they came back by the place where 
this happened [on the return trip to the north], 
there was no water left at that place [Phone 
Interview with Blackfeet consultant CCB, 
August 22, 1996]. 

Although after considerable searching we have 
been unable to find more geographically-precise ver- 
sions of the trails followed on such Piegan adven- 
tures to the south, a general picture of Blackfeet long- 
distance travel has come from Brings-Down-The- 
Sun, a Canadian Blackfeet man who was interviewed 
by the amateur scholar and photographer Walter 
McClintock in 1905. The old man said that his people 
customarily used two main routes for their major 
journeys. One led them northwards out of Calgary. 
Alberta, up into the Barren Lands of the Northwest 
Territory and beyond to the Yukon — "as far as people 
live," in the old man's words. However, the Old 

North Trail which took them in the opposite direc- 
tion bordered the southern mountains, and even ex- 
tended "south into the country inhabited by a people 
with dark skins, and long hair falling over their faces 
(Mexico)" (McClintock 1930:435). Fast-moving war 
parties would ply these routes, but also whole fami- 
lies and bands traversed them as well. As one 
Blackfeet memory of the tribe's last, unsuccessful 
journey to make peace with the Shoshone describes 
these families on the move: 

When we traveled, if you were with the head 
ones, you could not see the last ones, they 
were so far back. They had more horses than 
they could count, so they used fresh horses 
every day and traveled very fast. On the 
twenty-fourth day they reached the place 
where Owl Bear had told the Snake they 
would camp, and put up their lodges along 
the creek [Grinnell 1961:130]. 

The father of Brings-Down-The-Sun told 
McClintock about one of these long voyages to visit 
the dark-skinned southerners which was undertaken 
in the early 19th century by a man named Elk Tongue 
and his wife. In Elk Tongue's case, the ultimate pur- 
pose of the odyssey was neither for raiding or hunt- 
ing but turned out to be the quest for powerful medi- 
cine. Down in the hot country a "South Man" sold 
him an extremely sacred "Dancing Pipe." which was 
to be used on important occasions, in conjunction 
with its medicine bundle. One feature of this bundle's 
ceremony was its power to grant practitioners, 
through gazing into the ritually-eviscerated body of 
a badger, a glimpse of whether they would die young 
or live to enjoy old age. But because this foreknowl- 
edge too often saddened people, the "South Man" 
discouraged its new Blackfeet owners from trying 
it out (McClintock 1930:435-436). 

While on such missions the Blackfeet war par- 
ties seized every opportunity to ambush their old 
enemies, whether they were the Shoshones or the 
Crows. Brings-Down-The-Sun remembered one 
"picture writing" created by his father which re- 
corded such a far-reaching military expedition led 
by a young chief named Calf Robe. After "traveling 
southward along the Rocky Mountains." Calf Robe's 
band crossed the Yellow stone and entered "the coun- 
try of the Snakes" with whom they skirmished, 
barely escaping with their lives (McClintock 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Figure 2.4. Map of Piegan-Blackfeet aboriginal hunting territory, which includes portion of Yellowstone National 
Park within southern perimeter (From The Sun Came Down by Percy Bullchild, 1985 n.p.). 

1930:469). Thanks again to the prolific chronicler 
of early Blackfeet travels, James Willard Schultz, 
we have yet another description of such a long-dis- 
tance journey to the south, a narrative which Schultz 
heard first-hand from a Blood chief named Eagle 

Departing for his raid upon the Crows, early 
one morning the young Eagle Plume led nine war- 
riors from their tipis along the "Belly River" to the 
banks of the "Bear" [Marias] River, which they 
crossed near a large, sacred red rock on its northern 
shore "just above Great Northern Railway Branch." 

Chapter 2. Blackfeet and Flathead 77 

After praying to this rock for success on their raid, 
they then crossed the "Milk" [Teton] River below 
the breast-shaped butte which lent the stream its 
name. At the junction of the "Pile of Rocks" [Sun] 
and "Big" [Missouri] rivers, the young men, by now 
very hungry, forded the latter stream and camped 
for a few nights at "Rock-Ridge-Across", the site 
of present-day Great Falls, in order to hunt for buf- 

Successful at obtaining meat, they then pressed 
onward, crossing the "Yellow" [Judith] Mountains 
through the gap and soon reaching the "Dried Meat" 
[Musselshell] River. Shortly after wading this river 
they glimpsed the outline of the north end of the 
"Bad" or "Unfaithful" [Crazy] Mountains, halting 
at the head of the "Bad" [Shields] River that they 
knew flowed into the "Elk" [Yellowstone]. They 
were aware they were close to their destination, and 
before long, "where Elk River comes from the moun- 
tains [probably near Big Timber] into the plain, we 
saw rising the smoke of many lodge fires, of a big 
Crow camp, of course" (Schultz and Donaldson 

According to Brings-Down-The-Sun, his 
people might be away on such journeys for many 
months, which most likely led them through or just 
skirting the Yellowstone Plateau, and eventually 
brought them into the far southwestern country from 
whence they brought back the rare materials which 
were native to those foreign landscapes. But their 
absences could also stretch far longer: Elk Tongue's 
trip took four years — twelve months of steady trav- 
eling to get there, and eighteen months just to get 
back because he chose the longer detour through 
the "High Trees" or Bitterroot country in order to 
avoid any Crows, Sioux and Cheyennes who might 
be lying in wait along their main North Trail. There 
was tremendous rejoicing when the Blackfeet war- 
riors finally returned home with their spoils and sto- 
ries like those reviewed here. 

While on the road they also visited time-hon- 
ored locations for obtaining natural resources they 
could not find at home. It was on the Little Bighorn 
River (Khpaksi Tuktai. or "Ash River"), for instance, 
deep in Crow country, that they interrupted their raid- 
ing long enough to hunt for wood for their bows 
and arrows and ash for their pipestems (Schultz 
1962:373). Along the way they also paid special at- 

tention to any mineral paint deposits which figured 
in their "mental maps" of the countryside, as will 
be described below. 

Aside from such written accounts and their di- 
rect interviews, the other genre of native Blackfeet 
source material that allows us to appreciate the 
breadth of Blackfeet travels and territorial aware- 
ness are their visual renderings, either pictographic 
drawings which usually require interpretation by the 
original artist, as Brings-Down-The-Sun mentions 
above, or their infrequent maps. One is the carto- 
graphic document also referred to above which was 
prepared by a Blackfeet man named Ac Ko mok ki, 
or "The Feathers." The Indian may have first 
sketched it in the ground or the snow when he met 
the Hudson's Bay Company Trader named Peter 
Fidler at his post on the Saskatchewan River in Feb- 
ruary, 1801, possibly in response to a request from 
Fidler, who then apparently copied it in his note- 
book (Ruggles 1991:62-65; Information courtesy of 
Mark Warhus and the Newberry Library, Chicago, 
from exhibit description for A.N. Arrowsmith's "A 
map exhibiting all the New Discoveries in the Inte- 
rior Parts of North America, January 1st 1795, addi- 
tions to 1802"). What The Feathers depicted was an 
area that extended at least 500 miles south, down 
into central Wyoming. On the east, he illustrated the 
confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers 
and then indicated his people's range past the Rocky 
Mountains all the way to the Pacific Ocean. In its 
entirety this constituted an area of about 200,000 
square miles, to which the Indian then appended a 
census for the 32 Indian groups living in the region, 
even showing their relative locations and giving the 
number of tipis for each as well. 

From this document one obtains vivid evidence 
of Blackfeet trading and warring routes that led them 
from western Canada down along the Rockies — 
through or edging along the Yellowstone National 
Park region — to Shoshone country and the central 
Wyoming tribes as well as east to the trading ren- 
dezvous at the Mandan, Hisatsa and Arikara villages 
long the middle Missouri. To cover the full journey 
from north to south, according to Ac Ko mok ki. 
Blackfeet horsemen took thirty-three days. Also the 
map reveals tribal names for such sites along the 
Absaroka front range as "The Rattle" (Rattlesnake 
Mountain), "The Heart" (Heart Mountain), "Bull's 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Nose" (the Bull Mountains) and "Warm Water 
River," (almost certainly the Shoshone River). 

Yet even a cursory re-examination of this map 
suggests that with a little closer awareness of 
Shoshonean social groupings the Blackfeet knowl- 
edge regarding these and other Yellowstone Plateau- 
associated tribes might be interpreted a bit more 
precisely than the decoding which accompanied its 
1977 publication might suggest. For example, #17 
on the map, or the "Fish eating Indians" is probably 
the Agaidika, or Lemhi; #18, or the "root" eating 
Indians very likely refers to the camas eaters or some 
other Shoshonean group; and #19, or the "Wood 
Indians" could well be the Boise Indians, otherwise 
known as the Yahandika or ground hog eaters. 

Nor did this impulse on the part of Blackfeet 

to depict the territory known and covered by their 
forefathers cease in the 19th century. As recently as 
the 1980s, the Piegan Blackfeet storyteller Percy 
Bullchild, in his collection of traditional narratives 
entitled The Sun Came Down, included his hand- 
drawn map of his people's territorial boundaries, 
positioning a clearly-labeled "Yellowstone Park" 
within its southern extremity (1985). But another 
way to get a sense of the continuity of Blackfeet 
awareness of the greater Yellowstone region 
throughout the first half of the 19th century is to tabu- 
late some reports of their incursions into or just past 
this area. 

Today, of course, we cannot be sure whether 
any of these Blackfeet parties took advantage of the 
earthen paint deposits to be found at key points along 

Blackfeet in or around the Yellowstone Plateau 


Fur trader David Thompson hears from a 
Blackfeet warrior about his people's first horse- 
stealing raid into Shoshone territory (Thompson 

1808 On a branch of the Jefferson Fork, near the Mis- 
souri headwaters, fur trapper John Colter barely 
escapes from a large Blackfeet war party 
(Chittenden 1964:28-29). 

1809-1 Blackfeet push Missouri Fur Co. trappers away 
from the vicinity of Yellowstone (American State 
Papers VI, Indian Affairs II, pp. 451,453). 

1826 Northeast of Yellowstone Lake, near West Thumb 
Geyser Basin, Daniel T. Potts describes two 
Blackfeet attacks from one "large party" (Haines 

1826 In area of Yellowstone's springs, a trapper and 
his party are driven onto the plains by Blackfeet 
(Hultkrantz 1957: 142, after Crampton 1932:5, af- 
ter letter in The Philadelphia Gazette, Sept. 1927). 

1828 En route to a peace parley with Shoshones in the 
south, Blackfeet Chief Crowfoot and fourteen 
warriors ambush a white man (Dempsey 1965:8). 

1829 Between the Yellowstone River and Devils Slide, 
a party of fur trappers (including young Joe Meek) 
is attacked by a party of Piegans (Chittenden 

1832 A battle between Blackfeet and fur traders, with 

Bannock friends, at the Pierre's Hole rendevous 
site (Replogle 1956:37; Norris 1879:988). 

1834 Accompanying Crows for buffalo hunt a half 
day's travel from No Wood Creek, trapper Zenas 
Leonard is attacked by Blackfeet (Brown 1961:55- 

1839 Near Pelican Creek outlet into Yellowstone Lake, 
Osborne Russell's camp is ransacked by Piegans; 
he never returns to the region (Russell 1965:101- 

1839 Just north of Yellowstone Lake, at Indian Pond, 
the trappers led by Baptise Decharme clash with 
a large body of Blackfeet (Hamilton 1905:94-95; 
Norris 1882:40-45). 

1844 On western shore of Yellowstone Lake a large 
group of trappers from north battlewith Blackfeet 
(Chittenden 1895:45). 

1845 Reports of Blackfeet leader Painted Wing and 275 
warriors pursuing Shoshones who stole their 
horses into geyser area (Linford 1947:251). 

1865 Belgian Jesuit Francis Xavier Kuppens is guided 
to Yellowstone Grand Canyon and Firehole ba- 
sins by Piegan warriors (Haines 1996:89). 

1867 Prospecting crew and trading post entrepreneurs 
detects signs of hostile Blackfeet near the Upper 
Falls of Yellowstone River (Haines 1974:37; 
Brown 1961:170-171). 

Chapter 2. Blackfeet and Flathead 79 

their southern trek. As seems to have been the case 
with the Flathead, did these warriors dig into ochre 
seams near the Missouri River to wrap up in special 
paint-bags for the trip home (suggested by Claude 
Schaeffer field notes, Glenbow Institute)? Or did 
they stop at one time-honored Blackfeet spot, re- 
portedly near some "warm springs" on the Yellow- 
stone River, to offer the customary prayers to a re- 
nowned medicine man before digging deep into a 
cut-bank for yellow paint (for Blackfeet paint-col- 
lecting practices, see McClintock 1910:207-224)? 
Once they approached the park, might these 
Blackfeet visitors have also ventured a quarter of a 
mile beyond those wood-covered pits on the talus 
slope opposite Electric Peak, just outside the park's 
northern entrance, to utilize the quarry which local 
whites would later call Indian Paint Cave, with its 
premium-quality red and yellow clay and pick marks 
which indicated the work of other native excava- 
tors (Walt Allen, Gallatin National Forest Archae- 
ologist, personal communication, August 15, 1996)? 
And within the present park boundaries and perhaps 
following Obsidian Creek to Lake of the Woods, 
did these Blackfeet then turn southeast to Amphi- 
theater Springs, the source of Lemonade Creek, in 
order to extract any of the abundant vermillion paint 
which Indians are known to have obtained in that 
vicinity (Bach 1973: 165) or in red and yellow paint 
deposits found in the fissure opposite the mouth of 
Hellroaring Creek which park Superintendent PW. 
Norris noticed had "evidently been visited by Indi- 
ans in modern times" (Norris 1881b:54)? 

We may not know about their possible use of 
these mineral resources, but we have a more prob- 
able speculation that they kept their eyes peeled for 
any edible foods or useable plants they found along 
their path. Coming up the Yellowstone River the 
Blackfeet were surely struck by certain obvious dif- 
ferences between some biotic communities and those 
back home. But moving through the sagebrush grass- 
lands on the valley bottom in the right season, along 
Mill Creek, Big Creek or similar tributary streams, 
they would easily find bushes of ripe serviceber- 
ries, gooseberries, raspberries and chokecherries. As 
the aridity of the sun-beaten ground increased en 
route towards present-day Mammoth, they would 
also discover clumps of prickly pear cactus, while 
even in the driest portion of the park, around Mam- 

moth itself, only a short distance up the side can- 
yons, brought them to the sites of old "ghost" bea- 
ver dams which featured richer soils, more mois- 
ture and ample foraging opportunities. 

On the "People's Trail": 
Flatheads Remember Going South 

Other northerly tribes with cultural memories 
or fragmentary knowledge of the upper Yellowstone 
and environs were the Flathead, or Salish-speaking 
people, of Montana, and their immediate native 
neighbors. Since there exists no evidence of any sort 
that this nation ever flattened their heads — as did 
their linguistic brethren along the Columbia River — 
the term Salish is often preferred. In Carling 
Malouf's opinion, their aboriginal center was at 
"Three Forks" — the confluence of the Missouri, 
Madison and Jefferson Rivers, and in the Gallatin 
Valley to the south, even though they hunted and 
raided as far east as present-day Billings and into 
the Wyoming Bighorns. Although the earlier scholar 
James A. Teit placed them as far east as the upper 
Yellowstone Valley. "Parties of Flathead," he wrote, 
"also visited the mountain Snake, especially the 
Lemhi, and they also visited Shoshoni bands on the 
Yellowstone" (Teit 1930:269, also 303-306]). 

As for the closely-associated (Upper) Pend 
d'Oreille, they were once actually part of the Salish 
nation (and the two still speak mutually intelligible 
languages). Before they were concentrated on a 
separate reservation in Washington State, they could 
be found around Flathead Lake, the Bitterroot Val- 
ley and the Upper Clarks Fork River between 
present-day Missoula and Butte. Montana (Malouf 
1998:297). At the time of Yellowstone Park's in- 
ception these Pend d'Oreille numbered around 1000 
souls. Just west of Salish territory proper lived the 
linguistically related Coeur d'Alene, whose estab- 
lished permanent and temporary camps throughout 
the Spokane River system but who also could be 
found along portions of the Clearwater and Clarks 
Fork streams (Palmer 1998:313). Reduced from an 
estimated 3.000 to 4.000 in 1 780 to about 320 mem- 
bers in 1853. the Coeur d'Alene foraging grounds 
probably overlapped in amicable, mutual-use fash- 
ion with that of their surrounding linguistic cous- 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

- '73- 

Figure 2.5. Folklore from tribes to the north and west of Yellowstone National Park both feature the mythic being, 
Coyote, striving to procure fish for the Indians on either side of the Continental Divide in the greater Yellowstone 
ecosystem. But while Coyote is only successful in establishing smaller fish for highland dwellers on the western 
side, as this illustration by Flathead artist Frederick E. Roullier shows he fails entirely to capture salmon for 
Indians on the "dawn side of the mountains. " This explains why it will largely be buffalo that these Plains peoples 
will pursue in the future (from Coyote Tales of the Mountain Salish by Harriet Miller and Elizabeth Harrison, from 
narratives they recorded from Pierre Pichette. Rapid City, South Dakota: The Tipi Shop, 1974, p. 19). 

ins. Finally, one must include in this particular cor- 
ner of shoulder-to-shoulder Plateau Indian peoples 
the linguistically unique Kootenai, whose traditional 
lands north of the Montana Salish extended into 
Canada but who undertook long-distance buffalo- 
hunting expeditions into the Plains, and whose 
American branch drew closer to the Flathead when 
the Jesuits created their St. Ignatius Mission in 1 854 
(Brunton 1998:224-234). From the early reserva- 
tion period through today, their historical experience 
has increasingly been shared with that tribe (except 

that, as Brunton also notes, they have "tended to 
belong to a less-acculturated, traditional 
group... some what isolated on the northern end of 
the Flathead Reservation" (Brunton 1998:234). 

The extent of southern visits by these Flat- 
head was made somewhat more precise by anthro- 
pologist Carling Malouf, whose early fieldwork was 
largely devoted to the tribe, and who states unequivo- 
cally that "they went as far as Yellowstone National 
Park" (Malouf 1967:4). What Malouf argues as the 
principal motivation for their relocation into the 

Chapter 2. Blackfeet and Flathead 


Bitterroot Valley was the intrusion, as early as the 
1600s, of Shoshonean Indians from Idaho and Wyo- 
ming who began marauding up from the south once 
they were emboldened by the horses and leather ar- 
mor they acquired from the Spanish. Some oral tra- 
ditions also support knowledge and use of the park 
to the Flathead. According to interviews by the bilin- 
gual Flathead- interpreter, Pierre Pichette — who 
talked in the 1930s on behalf of narrative-collectors 
Bon Wheadon and Claude Schaeffer with such reli- 
able tribal elders as Paul Antoine, Victor and Mortine 
Vanderburg, and Baptiste and Louis Lumpry — the 
ancestors of the Flatheads expressly sought out the 
obsidian quarries in Yellowstone National Park 
(Clark 1966:87). Although in 1833, Warren Ferris 
recalled that his Pend d'Oreilles guides were "ap- 
palled" by the geysers, and that one Indian remarked 
that "hell, of which he had heard from the white- 
man, must be in that vicinity," one of Pichette's sto- 
ries shed a more positive light on the park. The nar- 
rative featured the trickster figure, Coyote, in his 
familiar role in the plateau as landscape transformer, 
and protector and culture-bearer for human beings. 

But before summarizing Pichette's story, which 
anthologizer Ella E. Clark entitled "Coyote's Proph- 
ecy Concerning Yellowstone National Park" (Clark 
1966:86-90), we must first address the issue of its 
authenticity. As for assessing the bonafides of sto- 
ryteller Pichette, what we know about the man at- 
tests to his competence as a traditional narrator. Born 
in 1877 on the Flathead Indian Reservation's Jocko 
Agency near the present-day location of Arlee, Mon- 
tana, when he died in 1955 it was said that "Pichette 
had made an enormous contribution to the preser- 
vation and understanding of the culture of his 
people" (Miller, Harrison and Pichette 1974:7). His 
cultural knowledge came through his family but was 
certainly deepened by personal tragedy: at the age 
of fifteen while a student at the mission boarding 
school in St. Ignatius, Pichette contracted measles 
and lost his eyesight. 

Thereafter the boy became a tribal intellectual. 
Pichette had been only a year old when his mother, 
an enrolled Pend d'Oreille and Kalispell woman 
named Mary Sabine, passed away. Instead of living 
with his lather, however, an enrolled Spokane named 
Modess Pichette, Pierre was raised by his maternal 

Figure 2.6. Pierre Pichette, Salish-Kootenai oral 
historian and storyteller, (from Coyote Tales of the 
Montana Salish by Harriet Miller and Elizabeth 
Harrison from tales narrated by Pierre Pichette, 
illustrations by Frederick E. Roullier, Rapid City, 
South Dakota: The Tipi Shop, 1974, Page 7). 

grandmother, also named Mary, who is believed to 
have been among Chief Arlee's band when it gave 
up its beloved Bitterroot country and moved to the 
Jocko Agency after 1872. From his grandmother 
young Pierre absorbed many narratives — mythic, 
legendary and historical. Once he became blind, he 
taught himself to read and use a typewriter in Braille, 
and thereafter became renowned among his people 
for his bilingual skills, his clear memory, his gifts 
as a public orator, and his collaboration and corre- 
spondence with numerous scholars on matters of 
Salish-Kootenai tradition. Furthermore, his reputa- 
tion for truthfulness and linguistic accuracy made 
him a valued interpreter for his tribe throughout their 
eventually successful land claim hearings. This 
background would seem to validate Pichette's cred- 
ibility as a trustworthy storyteller, which is rein- 
forced by the fact that the well-respected anthro- 
pologist-historian Claude Schaefer considered 
Pichette sufficiently knowledgeable to engage him 
as a key informant, and used him to obtain detailed 
data on Flathead camp moves. 

One might also examine the credibility of the 
document's interlocutor. We have no detailed infor- 
mation on the late Ella Elizabeth Clark's interview- 
ing practices. An English professor at Washington 
State University in Pullman. Washington. Ms. 
Clark's career focused on collecting Indian texts 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

from the Pacific Northwest and the Rockies. She 
obtained her material from both field interviews and 
library research. For a professional evaluation of her 
work, however, we contacted the two major schol- 
ars of Northwest Indian narratives, Dr. Jarold 
Ramsey and, through Dr. Ramsey, the dean of 
American Indian linguistic studies, Dr. Dell Hymes. 
First, from Dr. Ramsey: 

Without knowing the details of the charges 
and biases against Clark's work, I'm afraid I 
can't give you a very sharp-edged comment. 
But I'll venture this. In looking at and some- 
times consulting her two main collections of 
Indian narrative texts (from Pacific North- 
west and the Rockies), I have never found 
any evidence that she "made things up" or 
even embroidered her materials... My feel- 
ing about her work has always been some- 
thing like this: that she deserves some credit 
for recognizing and trying to promote the 
study of traditional Indian oral literature as 
literature, in a time (30's to 50's) when few 
scholars were following that line; and she 
also deserves credit for undertaking quite a 
lot of folkloric field work — she worked, for 
example, on the Warm Springs Reservation 
in Central Oregon, near where I grew up. 
When I began to work on my own anthol- 
ogy, Coyote Was Going There: Indian Lit- 
erature of the Oregon Country, I thought of 
her as a worthy predecessor and rival in the 
cause of gaining serious literary attention for 
the transcribed oral traditions of the Far West 
[Personal communication, August 11, 1998]. 

As a consideration for this project, Dr. Ramsey 
mentioned our concerns to Dr. Dell Hymes and re- 
ported the following: 

No sooner had I mailed my letter to you — 
couple of days ago, then Dell Hymes called 
from his place in Oregon. He says he never 
knew Ella Clark, but has always considered 
her Indian collecting and editing honest, 
careful, and valuable within what now seem 
like its limits (re: concern with native liter- 
ary conventions and assumptions and with 
questions of translation and textualization). 
He's as puzzled as I by the opposition you've 
encountered to her work [Personal commu- 
nication, August 13, 1998]. 

The main thrust of these two positive testimo- 
nials concerns Clark's field collecting, which are en- 
dorsements echoed in Dr. Marius Barbeau's review 
of Ms. Clark's Indian Legends of Canada (Barbeau 
1962). But perhaps her care with the vetting of re- 
ceived texts did leave something to be desired. In 
his August 11, 1998, letter Ramsey added "...she 
does cast a very wide and sometimes unaccount- 
able net for her materials," and cited a Wasco In- 
dian story which Clark copied from another work, a 
source which Ramsey assessed as "romanticized and 
utterly shaky as to its provenance" (Personal com- 
munication, August 1 1 , 1998). We sensed this same 
discrepancy in Clark's materials between those she 
collected personally and those she lifted from ear- 
lier publications. For instance, in our search for 
Northern Cheyenne materials connected to Yellow- 
stone National Park we were intrigued to locate a 
purported Cheyenne creation story for the "Land of 
Great Fire" accompanied by a color photograph of 
Minerva Terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs, in a 1995 
coffee table publication (Milne 1995:89). Upon 
reaching the author, however, we discovered he had 
lifted the narrative from an anthology of Indian nar- 
ratives coedited by Ella E. Clark (Edmonds and 
Clark 1989). Inspecting that publication led us to a 
third work from which Ms. Clark had, in turn, 
uncritically borrowed this story. Edited by an East- 
ern Montana College professor of Education, Hap 
Gilliland, this pamphlet, The Flood, was first pub- 
lished in 1972 (Gilliland 1972). But upon reaching 
the author and inquiring about the geographical spe- 
cifics of his narrative he admitted that the original 
story he had heard from his Northern Cheyenne con- 
sultants (neither audio-taping nor preserving his 
handwritten notes) had been geographically vague. 
"So I think I added those places there, to make it 
more specific. Yes, I know I did" (Personal phone 
communication, September 4, 1998). 

Another way to assess whether such a narra- 
tive is "authentic" might be to examine its plot and 
to judge its conformity with other aspects of Flat- 
head and Plateau Coyote narratives and storytelling 
techniques. The story opens with Coyote leaving a 
well-known spot in Flathead geography: the sacred 
springs above the "medicine tree" near the town of 
Darby in western Montana. This is where Coyote 

Chapter 2. Blackfeet and Flathead 83 

chased a bighorn ram across an arroyo so that its 
horns stuck in a ponderosa pine tree that is still re- 
vered by Flathead people. In fact, the entire narra- 
tive is anchored by authentic Flathead places; for at 
the very end of the story the plum trees, which Coy- 
ote creates out of his horse whip for the benefit of 
people, now provide the Flathead name for what the 
white man calls the Jocko River, near the town of 
Dixon, Montana. And in the tale Coyote behaves 
according to type: he is thin and gaunt but relent- 
lessly traveling. We learn that Grizzly Bear has con- 
vened a great "gathering of the tribes," but Coyote 
hears about it too late and must race to the location 
for this event "in a valley of what is now Yellow- 
stone Park," an area known to teem with these dan- 
gerous animals. 

But instead of walking right in, Coyote stays 
unnoticed with an old woman nearby. As is the typi- 
cal number symbol for Indian folklore of this re- 
gion, four times he has her make requests of Griz- 
zly Bear, the leader of the gathering, twice for his 
best food, twice for his best drum. Finally getting 
Grizzly Bear's instrument, Coyote then summons 
supernatural powers to kill him. When the people 
then want Coyote for their new chief, he promotes 
Golden Eagle instead. As if in exchange for the 
thankful gift of a horse from the people, Coyote re- 
sponds with a glowing verbal portrayal of the ther- 
mal region which sounds at odds with the forbid- 
ding image reported by Ferris: 

In generations to come, this place around 
here will be a treasure of the people. They 
will be proud of it and of all the curious things 
in it — flint rocks, hot springs, and cold 
springs. People will be proud of this spot. 
Springs will bubble out, and steam will shoot 
out. Hot springs and cold springs will be side 
by side. Hot water will fly into the air, in 
this place and that place. No one knows how 
long this will continue. And voices will be 
heard here, in different languages, in the gen- 
erations to come [Clark 1966:89]. 

Coyote's fight against grizzly bears is told in 
two of Pichette's other narratives (Miller, Harrison 
and Pichette 1974:46-49, 54-57) and is an exten- 
sion of the ubiquitous Plateau theme of Coyote con- 
quering dangerous beasts or supernatural monsters 

to ready the world for human habitation, as evi- 
denced in Deward Walker's collection of Coyote- 
versus-Grizzly stories from the neighboring Nez 
Perce (Walker 1994:103-120). The Flathead have 
him killing them on behalf of human beings and so 
do the Nez Perce (Walker 1994:107-109, 116). and 
like the Flathead story, the Nez Perce even suggest 
Coyote trying to use Grizzly's own power against 

Aubrey Haines and Lee Whittlesley are reluc- 
tant to accept this Coyote tale as authentic. As for 
Haines' objection that the "modern" element of the 
horse negates the narrative's authenticity. Plains In- 
dian folklore contains frequent references to the su- 
pernatural origin of horses, in stories which almost 
proudly ignore their historical origins in Euro- 
American society. For example, the Pawnee told of 
a young man who dreamt of their creator, Tirawa. 
opening the sky and dropping the first two ponies 
down to earth (Dorsey 1906a: 123). Among the Chey- 
enne, when the people led by their culture hero. 
Sweet Medicine, are camping at Devil's Tower, he 
predicts the day when an animal "will carry you on 
his back and help you in many ways" (Stands in 
Timber and Liberty 1967:40). The Piegan linked their 
version of the widespread story of the woman who 
marries a star with an account of how the Great Chief 
of the Sky World made a horse from wet clay for 
their offspring to ride (Bradley 1923:298-299). 

But both this horse element and the Yellow- 
stone National Park forecast in the Pichette narra- 
tive exemplify a deeper creative twist often found 
in American Indian folklore, which Plateau Indian 
folklore scholar Jarold Ramsay calls "retroactive 
prophecy." By this term Ramsay refers to the genre 
of stories that often claim special knowledge, or 
forecast aspects or consequences of Indian-white 
interaction or even cataclysmic events which, in re- 
ality, have already happened or are already known. 
However such stories are recast as prophecies which 
existed long before, and result from "Indian my- 
thologies endeavoring to preserve the continuums 
of the old ways in the face of their apparent utter 
disruption" (Ramsay 1983:164). In this particular 
case, from a non-Indian point-of-view the Flathead 
originator of this story would have retooled infor- 
mation he had heard about the Yellowstone thermal 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

features in order to give his people the indirect credit 
for knowing about this "treasure" of a place, since 
it was their culture hero who generously gave it to 
people from all over the world, who would then flock 
to it (which can be read as a rare Indian endorse- 
ment of a multi-use policy). From a Flathead per- 
spective, however, the narrator is only doing what 
comes naturally, attributing the world's wonders to 
the four-legged demi-urge whom they have always 
acknowledged created the known world for them. 

Furthermore, like some of the examples cited 
by Ramsay, this Pichette narrative actually seems 
to be spliced together from two time-frames: the 
"Myth Age" in the first part of the story, where Coy- 
ote kills the Grizzly Bear, and the second part, oc- 
curring in the more "Historical Age," where people 
thank Coyote for saving them with the gift of the 
gray horse, and then Coyote's final prophetic words 
about Yellowstone National Park as if in reward for 
their gratitude. Just as no one can say that the afore- 
mentioned stories of horses were not grafted onto 
older narratives on the spot, we cannot be sure 
whether Pichette himself invented his last section 
as well. But what Ramsay's essay argues is that this 
creative process of trying to make novel phenom- 
ena consistent with tribal worldview has been a per- 
sistent impulse throughout the American Indian 
world ever since Euro- American and Native Ameri- 
cans first began interacting. From Native American, 
or cultural anthropological perspectives, then, the 
above narrative would appear wholly consonant with 
traditional Indian storytelling mechanisms and mo- 
tivations, even if historians doubt its consistency 
with chronological sequences or tidy associations 
between regions and tribes. (Among those who re- 
main highly dubious about the authenticity of this 
Clark/Pichette narrative is park historian Lee 
Whittlesey who regards its closing section particu- 
larly as sounding Euro- American and concocted or 
at least rewritten by a popularizer (Clark) who was 
a teacher of English literature and neither a trained 
ethnographer or linguist.) 

Now we return from Flathead folklore to their 
history. It has been hypothesized that the Flathead 
split from their Salishan-speaking relatives to the 
west at an early date (Turney-High 1937:11-21). 
Thereafter they became known in Montana for 

blending their adoption of many key Plains Indian 
traits, such as utilization of the horse (receiving them 
from the Northern Shoshone sometime after 1730- 
40 — Ewers 1955; Malouf 1957), buffalo hunting, and 
the conical tipi, with key characteristics of the Pla- 
teau cultural world, such as foraging for tubers with 
digging sticks and creating collective vision-inspired 
ceremonies such as the Blue Jay Dance. Never a 
very large tribe, the Flatheads were down to about 
600 souls in 1 806, if we believe Lewis and Clark. 
Due largely to their incessant strife with the over- 
powering Blackfeet, however, by the time they 
signed the treaty of Hell Gate in 1855 their numbers 
had almost been reduced by half again. 

The Flathead hunters of the early 19th century 
who left the Bitterroot Valley in search of buffalo to 
the east faced a rougher and longer road to their old 
hunting grounds than the one they had once under- 
taken from their earlier homeland at Three Forks, 
but they surely were acquainted with the route. Their 
fairly detailed recollections of this long-distance 
trek, which would have been the major phase of a 
journey that subsequently could have brought them 
to the Yellowstone region, were narrated in the 1930s, 
through interpreter Pichette, by elders Paul Antoine 
and Louis Lumpry to the ethnographer Claude 
Schaeffer (Claude Schaeffer Papers, Glenbow Mu- 
seum, Calgary, courtesy of the Kootenai-Salish Cul- 
ture Committee). 

By about 1800 it had become their customary 
practice to launch upon biannual quests for buffalo 
meat, following what the Salish called 
Sinkakatiiwax, which translates as "The People's 
Trail." For this journey they generally allowed at 
least ten days, and eventually it took them to the 
headwaters of the Musselshell River. Starting the 
first stretch of such an expedition the Salish party 
would bid farewell to their campsites which were 
located in the vicinity of Stevensville, Montana. 
Moving north up the Bitterroot Valley, they headed 
for the present site of Missoula. There they turned 
east, following the trail along Petty (Pattee) Creek 
which flowed between old Fort Missoula and today's 
University of Montana campus. 

Riding along this creek as it cut through the 
hills to the "Missoula river" (Clark Fork of the Co- 
lumbia), they forded it just east of its junction with 

Chapter 2. Blackfeet and Flathead 85 

the Big Blackfoot River, and then continued to fol- 
low its northern banks for a distance of "nine miles 
above Bonita." At this point they crossed the river 
to its southern shoreline, rode eastward past Medi- 
cine Tree, and finally arrived at the present town of 
Drummond. Sticking to the southern shoreline, they 
dropped about halfway to Garrison before crossing 
the river once again and pursuing the southern course 
of the "north fork" (Little Blackfoot River) towards 
the hamlet of Avon. 

Now they forded this river, keeping to the 
southern banks as far as Elliston, where they again 
waded back across, sticking with its northern shore 
until they reached a place "where two creeks empty 
into the river, one from the north and one from the 
south." At this point the party would turn up the 
northernmost of these creeks (possibly Dog Creek), 
which they shortly abandoned, however, to head 
directly east through a pass (possibly Mullen Pass) 
in the Continental Divide — although Schaeffer's 
consultants said that they could also have chosen to 
cut directly east a little earlier so as to use 
Mac Donald Pass through the divide (probably fol- 
lowing Tenmile Creek after that). By either route, 
they soon found the Missouri River, which they 
crossed just east of the present-day state capital of 

To the Flathead Indians the Missouri River was 
known as ep iyu ntwe?tkwus, which meant "river of 
the red paint." At a well-known site just to the north 
of where their trail actually traversed the Missouri 
they often dug out the reddish hematite which they 
used in ceremonial activities and to paint their tipis. 
If this expedition was taking place in the fall usu- 
ally they could have forded the river without assis- 
tance. But if it was summertime, said Schaeffer's 
narrators, they would have to make "tipi-skin boats." 
Had they then wanted to strike out for the Yellow- 
stone Plateau, it would have been an easy matter to 
continue to follow the Missouri River due south to 
Three Forks, and from there stick with the Madison 
to the park's present western entrance. However, 
none of Schaefer's informants, at least, mentioned 
this option. 

From the Missouri the hunters headed into the 
Big Belt Mountains, which they traversed by means 
of a pass [possibly Deep Creek] before riding by a 
"Fort Logan," still maintaining their course due east 

Figure 2. 7. Kootenai-Salish Consultant, TT, at 
Obsidian Cliff. 

so as to cross directly between the Little Belt Moun- 
tains (Castle Mountains) and the Crazy Mountains. 
Picking up the South Fork of the Musselshell in this 
widening basin, at last the men would gain their first 
sight of the desired buffalo herds. According to the 
Flathead informants, once the party had entered this 
river plain and edged farther along the well-timbered 
Musselshell, they had to remain ever alert, for sur- 
prise attacks by Blackfeet or others might come at 
any time. 

Penetrating the "Smokey Ground" 

It was at this point, Schaeffer's informants did 
add, that had they wished the Flathead hunters 
(sometimes accompanied by the Pend d' Oreille) 
might have decided upon the additional trek down 
to the Yellowstone. This they accomplished by drop- 
ping a little further down the Musselshell before 
turning southeast on their southern trail. Without 
further explanation as to the significance of the date, 
they said that this latter route was used "more fre- 
quently previous to 1877" — which, however, would 
have been when these Flathead surely knew that 
military activity over the Nez Perce war was intense 
and uncomfortably close-by. 

Unfortunately Schaeffer elicited no further de- 
tails for what might have been the next leg of this 
journey to the Yellowstone Plateau, nor about any 
possible routes they followed within the current park. 
One amusing story told by a Kootenai, however, gets 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

natives from northern Montana at least partway to 
the park. Remembering humorous "firsts" among 
his people, Baptiste Mathias told Thain White that 
it was "down towards Red Lodge" that one traveler 
to the south picked up a five-pound lard bucket. 
When he returned home he put a cover on it. As 
curious onlookers gathered around to see the strange 
metal container, he whipped off its cover to astound 
them with reflections of their faces in the metal base. 
"They offered him all kinds of things but he wouldn't 
sell it (White 1952:4)." 

Even after all this time of removal from the 
Yellowstone environs, our recent interview with a 
Flathead elder confirmed the general outline of the 
Schaeffer claims about southern travels, and places 
his people's geographical knowledge squarely 
within the park. A forestry technician for the Flat- 
head Tribe, LA, was born near Arlee, Montana, sixty- 
two years ago, in the house of elder SR. As he re- 
membered the stories of old people like his grand- 
mother, LV, her brother, JV, their stepmother, SM, 
and especially his grandmother's aunt, MC, the Flat- 
head would gather in the vicinity of Stevensville for 
the summer. But come fall they scattered into for- 
aging bands made up of two or three families, with 
some "ending up in Yellowstone in the fall" (LA 
Interview, June 4, 1996). 

It was LA's belief that if they did gather enough 
food during the fall, "they might stay all winter, they 
liked the hot waters, I guess." They had taken so 
long to get there, he thought, that they took their 
time before coming home, since the region provided 
sufficient elk, buffalo, fish and roots for their sur- 
vival. Sometimes, he said, their fellow tribesmen 
might not see a family for a year or more, and occa- 
sionally never — "which meant they maybe met up 
with Crows or Blackfeet." LA himself remembered 
one summer trip when he was a little boy, when his 
family ventured deep into the Bob Marshall Wil- 
derness and came upon a clearing at the "place of 
meadows" (L-qul-qo-le-wh) with a group of Salish 
already camped there. Today that memory of a 
"circle of five or six tipis" remains for him "like a 
dream." After talking with the campers for a few 
hours, his parents returned to their own camp. 

When the family groups finally returned to the 
Bitterroot in the fall, LA said they told stories of 
what they had seen in the southland; "they talked 

about this hard stuff like glass," and about the ar- 
row points {ta-pa-mi) and spear points (noo-loo-loo- 
moo) they found there. In addition, the consultant 
remembered three place-names associated with the 
Yellowstone region: 

1. K ali ssens, for "Yellow Stone." 

2. n' aq es ocq?etKw for " "Hot Water Coming 
out of the Ground" or "hot springs" (which 
the Salish were not loath to visit, whether at 
Lolo Hot Springs or Hot Springs, Montana). 

3. mo 'mo 'tu 'lex for "Smoke from the Ground," 
presumably associated with steam issuing from 
the thermal beds. 

Indian Hunting and 
the Greater Yellowstone 

While this chapter offers a good opportunity 
to introduce multi-tribal usage of large mammal re- 
sources in and around Yellowstone National Park, 
by no means are we suggesting that the Blackfeet or 
other groups dropping south into the park enjoyed 
any special advantage or claim over other tribes 
where the activities of buffalo or elk hunting were 
concerned. Quite the contrary, nearly all the native 
groups featured in this study — and quite possibly 
others as well — hunted in and around the Yellow- 
stone Plateau. But due to cultural or environmental 
reasons some tribes may have had a wider range of 
options for bringing other staples such as fish or 
camas into their regular diet. With the exception of 
our discussion of bighorn sheep, however, we will 
collapse much of our hunting information into this 
chapter — much as we will condense our material 
on the use of camas roots into Chapter 5 — in part 
for reasons of convenience. Yet there may be an- 
other justification as well. For as will become clear, 
it may have been in part thanks to one of these north- 
ern tribes that Yellowstone National Park was able 
to resuscitate its threatened buffalo population in the 
first place. 

Before turning to this most prominent animal 
symbol for Yellowstone National Park, however, we 
will touch on information which has come to light 
during our research regarding Indian hunting of elk 

Chapter 2. Blackfeet and Flathead 87 

in and immediately around the park. One 19th cen- 
tury account comes from Theodore Roosevelt, per- 
haps the most high profile of Yellowstone National 
Park boosters but at the same time an inveterate 
hunter. During one elk hunt into the Two-Ocean Pass 
region of the Wind River Mountains, before the area 
was protected within the U.S. National Forest Re- 
serve, Roosevelt ran into a large hunting party of 
Shoshones on horseback, who were split into bands 
of eight or ten members each. According to him: 

Their method of hunting was to organize 
great drives, the riders strung in lines far 
apart; they signaled to one another by means 
of willow whistles, with which they also 
imitated the calling of the bull elk, thus call- 
ing the animals to them, or making them 
betray their whereabouts. As they slew what- 
ever they could but by preference cows and 
calves, and as they were very persevering, 
but also very excitable and generally poor 
shots, so that they wasted much powder, they 
not only wrought havoc among the elk, but 
also scared the survivors out of all the coun- 
try over which they hunted [Roosevelt 

Some days earlier on this expedition, 
Roosevelt had also briefly stopped at the encamp- 
ment of an old mountain man with profound knowl- 
edge of the Teton country by the nickname of "Bea- 
ver Dick", who occupied a buffalo-hide tipi with 
"his comely wife and half-breed children" with their 
sizeable herd of horses nearby (Roosevelt 1892:714). 
This individual's full name was Richard Leigh, and 
we are grateful that park historian Lee Whittlesey 
provided our project with a typed summary of Dick's 
notations on Indian hunting from his personal jour- 
nal of experiences in the Pierre's Hole-Henry's Fork 
areas adjoining the park. 

British by birth, Dick came to America as a 
teenager, and ventured west in the early 1850s. 
Shortly after arriving in the Teton country, around 
1862 or 63 he married a Shoshone woman, but trag- 
edy struck thirteen years later when his wife and six 
children all died from smallpox (Whittlesey 
1996:23). The legendary reputation of Beaver Dick's 
prowess as a outdoorsman would find its way into 
the popular novel. The Virginian, by the Wyoming 
hunter and author, Owen Wister. As Whittlesey has 

quoted from Dick's own broken-English diary, the 
guide seemed "to have had a sense of the impor- 
tance of his own history with the Indians, for he 
wished fervently at one point that he could some- 
how 'give to the world my experience [sic] in Indan 
[sic] life and the rocky mountains so that thay [sic] 
could understand it'" (Dick Journal entry for Sep- 
tember 12, 1878). 

During the years of 1875, 1876 and 1878, even 
as most Plains Indians were being actively discour- 
aged from leaving their reservations, Dick periodi- 
cally bumped into Indians hunting not far from the 
park. As edited by Whittlesey, these comments of- 
fer some sense of the forays by various tribal repre- 
sentatives into the general Yellowstone area: 

On June 8, 1875, Leigh traveled down Pine 
Creek in the Snake River Range above 
present Swan Valley, Idaho, and reported that 
"Indians [h]ad run the elk and scattered 
them" there. 

On August 25, 1875, Leigh was confronted 
with four Indians at his cabin and boat near 
the mouth of South Teton River who wanted 
passage across the river. They told him that 
'the [other] indans that was out hunting the 
teton range [h]as got a big scair [scare] dan 
thay say thare is war parteys of the seux 
[Sioux] Indians in the [Teton] range and it is 
making these Indans go for the[ir] reserve in 
duble quick [time].' Here we have a rare ref- 
erence to Sioux Indians in the Tetons and a 
confirmation of Bannock/Shoshone use of 
the area for hunting. 

Below present Swan Valley Idaho, on Sep- 
tember 12, 1876. Leigh ran into two lodges 
of Indians camped on Snake River: "I talked 
with them they ware [were] shoshones hunt- 
ing elk and deer but was making very poor 
work of it thay [h]ad killed 2 deer and no elk 
and [h]ad beene out 6 weeks." 

On October 12. 1876. while trying to get his 
cabin built near the mouth of South Teton 
River (present Rexburg. Idaho). Dick noted 
that he stopped hunting because "the Indans 
was hunting all around us." 

On September 5. 1878. while at his home near 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

the mouth of South Teton River, Dick men- 
tioned that Indians were "scaterd thrue [scat- 
tered through] the timber hunting elk" ["A 
Pre- 1905 History of Large Mammals in 
Pierre's Hole, Idaho; Jackson Hole, Wyo- 
ming; and the Bechler Region of south west- 
ern Yellowstone," November, 1994, draft 
manuscript by Lee H. Whittlesey, forthcom- 
ing in P. Schullery and L. Whittlesey, His- 
tory of Large Mammals on the Yellowstone 

While these sightings of Indians in the 1870s 
involved elk hunting, by far the greatest symbolic 
attention given to animals in the park has been to its 
buffalo, the creature whose likeness is emblazoned 
on the National Park Service official seal. Today one 
can observe meandering herds of Yellowstone buf- 
falo grazing and switching their tails in broad day- 
light by the roadside down the Lamar Valley. But in 
the park of yesteryear, according to a 19th century 
geologist who knew the place well, it would have 
been "most unusual, save in midwinter, to find them 
[buffalo] in open valley or on the treeless mountain 
slope (Hague 1893)." This striking contrast in habi- 
tats can be explained of course by the changing adap- 
tive processes, in which today's buffalo have be- 
come accustomed to the incessant gazes, even med- 
dling, by gawkers and the intrusion of their vehicles. 
But it can also be explained by the fact that we are 
probably speaking of different subspecies of buffalo, 
as the Indians who had personal experience with both 
strains must have recognized full well. 

When wayfaring parties of Indian hunters or 
raiders pursued buffalo within Yellowstone National 
Park or its enfolding mountain ranges they were 
hunting an animal (Bison bison athabascae Rhoads) 
that contrasted in singular ways from their cousins 
of the Plains {Bison bison bison Linaeus). These so- 
called "mountain" or "wood" bison were generally 
tougher and faster, while their fur was darker, finer 
and curlier (Meagher 1973:14-15). They were also 
somewhat smaller than the Plains buffalo, and quite 
skittish, having a keen sense of smell which alerted 
them to anyone who came too near. The preferred 
habitat of the Yellowstone herds was described by 
geologist Hague when he was working in the park a 
hundred years ago, "They haunt the most inacces- 
sible and out-of-the-way places... living in open 

glades and pastures, the oases of the dense forest." 
These woodland bison were almost surely the spe- 
cies which earlier Indians drove over cliffs eastward 
into the Bighorn Basin or into catchment pens just 
south of the park. Wrote a correspondent for Live 
Stock Markets in 193 1 , the last of these subspecies 
was killed in the Bighorn mountains in 1885, and he 
added the following anecdotal comments about the 

They [woodland bison] grazed largely on 
willow and browsed on the leaves, shoots, 
bark, and twigs of trees. This gave the flesh 
a peculiar aromatic flavor, and you very soon 
tired of the meat. It was a great source of 
meat when the overland railroads were built. 
The hides made good robes, but the leather 
was not good. It was spongy [Burnett 

Not until 1989 was the site of an actual Indian 
bison kill discovered within the park proper. Four 
years after the bones of a bull began eroding from a 
cliff of billowing steam vents above Yellowstone 
Lake at Steamboat Point, a team from the Park 
Service's Midwest Archaeological Center carefully 
exposed nearly the entire animal, including bones 
with butchering marks and obsidian flakes from the 
cutting tools which made them. The kill site was 
dated at around A.D. 1200, and quite possibly was 
chosen by the Indian hunters because of the nearby 
steam vents as a comfortable, warm place to camp, 
and also so that they might corner the animals against 
the lakeside cliff {The Lincoln Star, September 24, 
1993, p. 1, 6). As to exactly when the different In- 
dian groups might have made their last buffalo hunts 
in the park area, little is known since, after 1872, 
those forays were clandestine, and sightings of tres- 
passing Indians were sketchy and infrequent. 

However the following rare account of a Crow 
pursuit of buffalo at a known location within Yel- 
lowstone National Park was elicited by a WPA 
fieldworker in the early 1940s. The story came from 
a part-Indian cowhand and former stage coach driver 
named Horace La Bree who in 1929 talked with the 
prominent Crow leader Plenty Coups about what 
the elderly Crow chief believed was the last Crow 
hunt to transpire within the northern reaches of Yel- 
lowstone National Park (Howard 1941:3-5). That 
year the two old men got together when they were 

Chapter 2. Blackfeet and Flathead 89 

both honored guests at a celebration at the park's 
northern entrance at Gardiner. Plenty Coups had 
been hoping to chat with La Bree because some- 
thing about the landscape around Gardiner had 
jogged his memory of an experience he associated 
with his father, Medicine Bird. It concerned a buf- 
falo hunt, and he wanted to check it out with some- 
one with a good familiarity of the countryside. About 
eighty-one years of age at the time, Plenty Coups 
retained this image of long-ago Crow hunters chas- 
ing animals up a particular creek that split into two 
forks, and then trapping the buffalo against a high rock 
or mountain. 

Fortunately La Bree was able to pinpoint the 
stream Plenty Coups was talking about. It was Buf- 
falo Creek, and he knew where the later-named 
Hellroaring and Coyote Creeks, the two streams of 
Plenty Coups* memory, poured into the Yellowstone. 
Their conversation about the location also triggered 
Plenty Coups' further recollections about the hunt. 
As it turned out, he had been about twelve years old 
at the time [c.1860], and now, in telegraphic phrases 
translated from the Crow language. Plenty Coups 
recollected the experience for La Bree: 

The Crows were hungry — in need of meat — 
food — clothing — The buffalo were becom- 
ing scarce— a bunch had gone into the Park — 
and they could not reach them — they spot- 
ted a herd of some two or three hundred — 
going up — towards these mountains — cross 
the Yellowstone — This was just what the In- 
dians had hoped they would do. 

As Plenticoups explained — that his father 
knew the lay of the country — where the two 
creeks came into the Yellowstone — back of 
which was a high cliff — of a rocky kind(.)The 
Crows— kept right in pursuit of the bunch of 
buffalo — running them — between the two 
creeks — right up against the rocky cliff. 

Of course — there was only thing the animals 
could do that was to mill around at the foot 
of the Cliff — then try to return — and the In- 
dians had their game corralled. 

This was the last hunt of the wild buffalo 
herd — in that locality. So Plenticoups told 
them | Howard 1941:4-5]. 

According to Plenty Coups, directly below this 
hunting location and across the Yellowstone was the 
expanse known as Buffalo Flat, which one can find 
today just north of the Northeast Entrance Road 
(Whittlesey 1988:29). One of seven named plateaus 
that taken altogether comprise the Yellowstone Pla- 
teau, it was in 1870 that a group of prospectors first 
named it Buffalo Flat, because "we found thousands 
of buffalo quietly grazing" (Henderson Diary. Yel- 
lowstone National Park Research Library, p. 50). 
This description accords with Plenty Coups' impres- 
sion of the place, for it was his recollection that in 
earlier days here "the buffalo would gather— to sun 
themselves. Often many were killed on this spot" 
(Howard 1941:5). 

Aside from its rarity as a description of an un- 
common Crow method of driving and hunting bi- 
son in Yellowstone, Plenty Coups' account is also 
provocative because of its location. The spot near 
where the two creeks run into the Yellowstone River 
would also seem around five miles or so from a buf- 
falo-hunting site identified in the late 1950s during 
a preliminary archaeological survey of the park by 
J. Jacob Hoffman. He called the location "The 
Slough Creek Compound, 48YE420" (Hoffman 
1961:28-30). As Hoffman described the terrain of 
the half-mile by quarter-mile site, "It consists of a 
series of knolls and terraces overlooking Slough 
Creek and two intermittent streams that enter the 
creek from the north" (Hoffman 1961 :24). 

The combined evidence of rock piles, a rock 
wall, evidence of camping and butchering, and "a 
natural cul-de-sac on the south side" of the creek 
were all indications that Indians had taken tempo- 
rary advantage of the natural topography to drive 
buffalo into a spot for easier killing and processing. 
Hoffman even found some intriguing post holes on 
the creek's northern bank, which could have been 
part of the animal-drive complex, although he could 
not be sure whether they were dug during the his- 
toric period or not. While the bison bone deposits 
that protruded out of the Slough Creek banks were 
not terribly extensive, Hoffman, citing Mulloy 
(1958). felt this was in accord with the characteristi- 
cally thin animal remains at other game compounds 
which had been associated with late prehistoric or 
historic times on the northwestern Plains. Suffice to 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Figure 2.8. Crow and Shoshone Indians driving buffalo in Lamar Valley for filming of The Thundering Herd (Photo 
courtesy of Yellowstone National Park Archives, Catalog #YELL 27919-1). 

say, however, that such cross-referencing between 
personal memory and archaeological reconstruction 
in the same immediate vicinity is unusual in the 
annals of Plains Indian culture history (for an ex- 
cellent Crow Indian account of buffalo jumps, and 
the importance of the early leader, Running Coy- 
ote, in initiating the first Crow technique of running 
buffalo over embankments, see Medicine Crow 

Yellowstone National Park was also the set- 
ting for another Crow reminiscence about buffalo 
hunting. In early fall of 1932 Max Big Man — see 
Chapter 1 for biographical information — was visit- 
ing the park to participate in the buffalo roundup at 
Buffalo Ranch. Before the roundup he visited the 
Mammoth museum, helped to interpret its elk hide 
painting, and related the following "real" Crow story, 
possibly to explain why his wife had not joined him 
in the park for the roundup. Although he never clari- 
fied whether its account of the vicissitudes of In- 

dian buffalo hunting took place within Yellowstone 
National Park proper, the park officials considered 
it interesting enough to publish, and so do we: 

My grandfather once told me a real buffalo 
story. He was not my grandfather, but my 
grandfather's brother, but he was always kind 
to me and I call him "grandfather". He said, 
"I was riding along with my wife and could 
see the buffalo hunters. Some of the buffalo 
came very near to us. One of the faster ones, 
a three-year-old, came right next to us. My 
wife said, 'You had better chase it and get 
some nice fresh meat.' 

Very seldom, at that time, was a woman ever 
on a buffalo hunt. Sometimes a woman can- 
not keep up with buffalo; sometimes get 
killed. Woman supposed to stay at home. But 
I was leading the buffalo off, — a war- 
whoop — , look to the right of me, and shot 
an arrow. I did not want to be very far from 

Chapter 2. Blackfeet and Flathead 


ins wife and because my wife was along I 
did not have the right skill. 

When I wounded the buffalo I was on a little 
knoll and I looked back to see it' my wife 
was coming When I turned I stopped and 1 
heard a noise and the buffalo was right at 
me. I leaned over quick to help my horse 
start loo late' The buffalo hit me from be- 
hind. Mean fellow ' I was thrown. I lav very 
still. Buffalo might not see me. Alas! he 
caught me and threw me high. I fell right 
next to a cut-bank, rolled over, but did not 
get into that ditch. Buffalo caught me again 
and struck on my head. Crawled over to 
deeper place. Got up and gave war-whoop. 
Wife coming closer. 

"Don't come near.' I yelled, 'buffalo is mad 1 ' 

I ran to a nearby tree and climbed it. Buffalo 
came on. War-whoop given in different 
places. I look around. In different places 1 
see streaks of dust with spots on the end com- 
ing toward me. The riders killed the buffalo. 
I got down. The blood was streaming from 
my face and leg and 1 could see a tendon 
hanging from my leg 1 fainted. 

When I came to that night I heard a noise 
like running water. The Medicine Man was 
directly over me and his medicine was buf- 
falo meat. Medicine Men had buffalo horns 
on. 1 thought it was the buffalo once more 
and again I fainted. When 1 came to a sec- 
ond time they had stopped crying and gave 
me water' I was hungry 

He must be near death', they said, 'asking 
for foodV 

No matter how sick an Indian is. he is ted 
buffalo meat. If he asks for food then he may 
uig to the Happy Hunting Ground. 

'cdicine Man said. Feed him', and they 
gave me meat and I ate just like a sound man. 

It did not have bad effects; there are my 

- the mark on my forehead. 

touch that, and there is the sear on mv leg. 

Touch that Ftais is the proof of my storj It 

is true. Ever since that lesson I make my ar- 
row count. 

Never take a w ifc on a buffalo hunt. When- 
ever you do a thing. leave out other things. 
Concentrate!" [Yellowstone National Park 
Nature Notes. V.9, N. 10/11. October/Novem- 
ber. 1932:45-46]. 

How Indians Saved the 
Yellowstone Buffalo: Version I 

In more aboriginal times, or roughly before 
A.D. 1750. these mountain buffalo which ranged 
throughout the Rocky Mountain region and its in- 
termountain valleys were part of a continental buf- 
falo population of all subspecies which has been es- 
timated at si\ty million animals (Thornton 1987:52). 
Although by the 1840s most of the buffalo were gone 
from the wider Plains, reports from the Yellow stone 
Plateau from the 1 870s suggest that a si/eable num- 
ber could still be found. In the case of the mountain 
bison, at least, the early vision of Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park as a safety zone for animal species 
quickly being hunted to the verge of extinction seems 
to be valid. Especially on the upper Lamar River. 
this sequestered domain seems to have provided one 
of their last refug 

In his survey ol Yellowstone National Park 
with the Ludlow reconnaissance expedition of 1875. 
the naturalist and popular writer George Bird 
Gnnnell encountered hide hunters running thick 
throughout the area, whose access by means of the 
new railw ay s set the stage for a final assault against 
big game in the Rocky Mountain west. A year later 
Grinnell would advocate that Congress pay atten- 
tion to "the terrible destruction of large game, for 
the hides alone, which is constantly going on in those 
portions of Montana and Wyoming through which 
we passed. Buffalo, elk. mule deer and antelope are 
being slaughtered by thousands each year, without 
regard to age or sex, and at all seasons. Of the \ as! 
majority ol animals killed, the hide only is taken. 
Females of all these species are as eagerly pursued 
in the spring, when just about to bring forth their 
young. .."(Grinnell 1972:118). 

The impact of this overkill on the unprotected 

ljm Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

buffalo of Yellowstone National Park would be as- 
sessed in 1889, when William T. Hornaday 's census 
would discover only ZlX^ of these animals still sur- 
\i\ing under lax federal supervision (McHugh 

1972:294), with the larger population on the North 
American continent estimated at down to 1.0°1 buf- 
falo tor that year (Thornton 1987:52). [An irony of 
Hornaday *s report was that he would blame Indians 
for this decline, claiming that "up to the year 1SS0 
the Indians of the tribes pre\ iously mentioned 
i Sioux. Cheyenne, Crow. Blackfeet, Assiniboin. 
Gros Ventre, Shoshoni) killed probably three times 
as many buffaloes as did the white hunters" 
t Hornaday 1 889:505f.). And Hultkrantz comments. 
"So speaks an inveterate Indian hater, a person who 
is out to free his white compatriots from the charges 
of having extinguished the precious American buf- 
falo" iHultkrant/ I981b:133).] When due predic- 
tions of the near extinction of the Yellow stone herd 
due to rampant poaching reached the U.S. Congress, 
the unique sy mbolic power of this park to focus and 
highlight public debate became vigorously evident 
Quickly the politicians drafted the first federal law 
to protect buffalo, winch was signed by President 
Grover Cleveland in May 1894, and backed up by 
penalties of SI. 000 fines or even imprisonment. 

As an additional effort to presen e the Yellow- 
stone herd, one year after it was estimated to num- 
ber hardly twenty-five animals struggling for sur- 
vival in N02 controlled groups of the Plains sub- 
species were introduced into the park. These new- 
comers apparently were drawn from two sources. 
The first came from a small herd which Charles 
Goodnight of west Texas had gathered from wild 
strays he found near Palo Duro Canyon in the lS~0s. 
The second were a group of eighteen cows which 
had belonged to another private refuge for buffa- 
loes which was co-owned by two mixed-blood In- 
dians. Michael Pablo and Charles Allard. in north- 
ern Montana. 

\t first this fresh blood was not intended to 
replenish the meager remnants of free-range moun- 
tain bison who still hid out in the nooks and cran- 
nies of the upper Lamar Valley. Until at least 1915, 
these newcomers were relatively quarantined, 
herded under careful monitoring and corralled to- 
gether at night. But around that year these subspe- 

Figure 2.9. Michael Pablo, Flathead Indian nine 
earty supplier of buffed* . National Pork 

(from A Short History of the American Bison by Martin 

ison. The American ; v Ve*v York, 

1934, p. 56). 

cies began to intermingle and crossbreed, until by 
the l L )~0s it was estimated that since the preponder- 
ance of surviving bulls originated from the moun- 
tain-type population, "the wild strain in the present 
bison population would seem to be 30-40%" 
(Haines 1970:29). 

But how w ere these Plains buffalo w hich w ere 
brought into the park in 1902 originally saved from 
the unprecedented intensity of mass hunting in west- 
ern North America, which saw the millions of buf- 
falo w hich roamed free at the onset of w hue contact 
in 1541 reduced to a few hundred by 1900? The fol- 
lowing account is a blend of material supplied by 
Francis Haines (1970: 6, 34, US. 219 222) Finest 
Thompson Seton (1929:658) and Martin S. Garretson 
(1938). Apparently the Pablo-AUard herd, which by 
the turn of this century is estimated to have sup- 
plied "more than SO percent o\ the buffalo in the 
United States." was an especially strong force in their 
rescue from the brink of extinction. As mentioned 
above, this was also the group of animals which con- 

Chapter : Blackfeet and Flathead 

Figure 2.10. Effigy of buffalo found in Absaroka Mountains, (Photo courtesy of National Anthropological Archives, 

Smithsonian Institution, Catalog #77-13300). 

tributed to the new breeding stock for Yellowstone. 
And it was also these animals whose preservation can 
be traced back to Montana's Flathead Reservation. 

Of all the four original breeding herds which 
ensured the survival of buffalo before the turn of 
the century, the first two appear to have been cap- 
tured and preserved by Indians; as Martin S. 
Garretson of the New York Zoological Society 
wrote, "It is a singular fact, and contrary to general 
belief, that we owe much to the Indians for saving 
the buffalo from extinction" (Garretson 1938:215). 
In the first case it was a group of Indians hailing 
from the Winnipeg area who captured a bull and 
four calves just north of the Canadian border in 
Manitoba and sold them to a local trader. 

But the other situation involved a member of 
the Pend d'Oreille tribe named (Sam) Walking Coy- 
ote, who in the spring of 1873 joined a friendly band 
of Piegan hunters along the U.S.-Canadian border, 
near the Milk River, not far from present-day Buf- 
falo. Montana. After killing a number of adults, the 
men noticed six stray, motherless calves plus two 

bulls and four cows hovering for company around 
their horses. In tandem with a rancher who was plan- 
ning to drive a herd of cattle 150 miles to Flathead 
country. Walking Buffalo and his new animals made 
the mountainous trek south. 

Once he was home in the Jocko Valley, Walk- 
ing Buffalo released his buffalo on open cattle range. 
Eleven years later, when the herd had grown to thir- 
teen or fourteen animals, he sold ten of them, at $250 
a head, to the newly formed partnership of half- 
Piegan Michael Pablo and the part-Indian Charles 
A. Allard. By the time of Allard's death in 1896. the 
herd had grown to about 300 animals. A portion of 
this stock were sold to a Kalispell rancher, who pro- 
vided the startup group for the National Bison Range 
located in Moise. Montana. Yet another bunch went 
to Howard Eaton, the rancher to actually supply the 
eighteen cows for the replenished first herd at Yel- 
lowstone National Park. In this roundabout way. 
then, even the Anglo-American version of the hy- 
bridized Yellowstone National Park buffalo herd has 
some Indian roots. 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Origin of Yellowstone National 
Park's Buffalo: Version II 

The foregoing narrative has been pieced to- 
gether from non-Indian accounts of the many- 
stranded origins of today's buffalo herd in Yellow- 
stone National Park. But, on the Kootenai-Salish 
Indian Reservation an account of the partial saving 
of ancestors to this herd has been preserved within 
a longer, three-part narrative, which also fits within 
an older, more complex tradition of the intimate re- 
lationship between the Flathead Indians and the 
buffalo. Early in 1977 these stories were related on 
tape by an 87-year-old elder and famous storyteller 
named Blind Mose Chouteh, and were translated by 
Dolly Linsbebigler in 1992. A portion of it is repro- 
duced here courtesy of the Kootenai-Salish Culture 
Committee, and was permitted to be incorporated 
into this document so long as it was not reproduced 
in any form without the express approval of the 
Kootenai-Salish Culture Committee. All three of the 
summaries of the Chouteh narratives to follow fea- 
ture the family line of a part-Kalispel, part-Salish 
man called Blanket Hawk, whose name apparently 
referred to the protective neckpiece of hawkskins 
which he habitually wore into battle. 

1 . The first narrative places Blanket Hawk as 
a young man in the middle of an especially harsh 
Montana winter, when his people are camped away 
from their valley home and out on the plains. Soon 
the chiefs cast around for medicine men with the 
supernatural power to bring warm weather and make 
the snow melt. Although Blanket Hawk and his 
friends propose a Jump Dance, an older medicine 
man dismisses the idea as futile. When the children 
who are the last to be given food are threatened with 
starvation, the leading chiefs plead with Blanket 
Hawk for help. 

Staying in his own tipi, Blanket Hawk con- 
ducts his Jump Dance to attract the warm, Chinook 
winds, and afterwards he predicts that come the fol- 
lowing morning nine buffalo will enter the camp, 
only to be followed by a much larger herd. At around 
sunup the camp is awakened by barking dogs, and 
everyone comes out of their lodges to see the pres- 
ence of nine buffalo bulls standing and waiting in 
the midst of camp. They are quickly slaughtered, 

and then the warm weather also moves in. Every- 
one is relieved and happy again, the narrative has 
the youngsters throwing snowballs, all sit down to 
meals of boiled and roasted buffalo meat, and the 
remainder of the flesh is dried for later use. And 
then still more buffalo appear, assuring an adequate 
food supply for the future. The people survive and 
return home. 

2. By the opening of Chouteh's second story 
the character known as Blanket Hawk is now a full- 
grown man. Again the Salish are out on the plains 
getting their annual meat supply, however now it is 
spring — "when the wild roses were in bloom," as 
they phrase it. As they return home from their suc- 
cessful hunt, they camp for three days in Blackfeet 
country. It is then that Blanket Hawk apparently gets 
the unique idea of initiating a minimal form of ani- 
mal husbandry. As he explains to his friends and his 
mother, "I am going to ask the Chief and the people. 
I am going to tell the Chiefs and leaders if we can 
bring back some buffalo. " After smoking with the 
chiefs, he discloses his plan for having buffalo al- 
ways close by so that his people will be safe from 
distant enemies like the Crees. 

But half of the chiefs argue that it is important 
to make such long journeys because it is good to be 
able to fight other tribes, and worthwhile to travel 
so they can hunt and "pass the time." However the 
other half of the leaders side with Blanket Hawk. 
When they cannot arrive at a consensus, Blanket 
Hawk finally abandons his idea: "I quit asking. I 
will be silent. The buffalo can stay here on the plains. 
Maybe you like our people getting killed by the dif- 
ferent tribes of Indians. Maybe you like us to get tired 
by coming here to hunt buffalo for our food." 

The next day when they break camp, "The buf- 
falo surrounded the people who were moving. The 
buffalo stayed close by, going along with the people; 
and some stayed near Atatice? (Blanket Hawk) and 
his friends." But since the other camp members 
would not allow the buffalo to join them, Blanket 
Hawk must part with the animals, and as the story 

His friends mounted their horses. And 
Atatice? was last. Before he mounted on his 
horse, he made sounds, saying, "Qeyq, qeyq- 
eeee." He waved to the buffalo, as if to sepa- 
rate the buffalo. He said to the buffalo, "Go 

Chapter 2. Blackfeet and Flathead 95 

on, it is your destiny, whatever may happen 
to all of you buffalo. They would not let you 
go back with me. It is up to you, whatever 
happens to you and whatever happens to me. 
That is all." And Atatice cried, His friends 
also cried. They regretted to part with the 

The buffalo turned towards the east (rising 
sun). They went in different directions. 

The men were crying as they moved on for- 
ward. As they were crossing over the moun- 
tains, they looked back and saw the buffalo, 
saw the black forms of the buffalo moving 

Thus ended his second story. But before 
Chouteh moved to his third narrative he interjected 
a somewhat shocking anecdote which may shed light 
on the deeper meaning behind this unusual affinity 
between the human being Blanket Hawk and the buf- 
falo as an animal species. It seems his wife brought 
a buffalo head into their house in order to butcher it 
up and boil it. Blanket Hawk was playing cards with 
friends at the time, and turned to her, aghast at what 
he saw. Immediately he begged her, "Don't, don't, 
don't. Take the head outside and fix it, chop it up, 
because I have always told you all not to prepare it 
inside of the house. You will hurt me." 

Ignoring his plea, she continued chopping on 
the head. Suddenly Blanket Hawk began to suffer 
from a nose-bleed. But fairly soon he was vomiting 
up blood. When she did not cease sawing away on 
the head, he shortly collapsed and died. 

This taboo against bringing a buffalo head into 
the house is interestingly similar to that which in- 
hibited the Crow elder, FS, from allowing one into 
his house in Wyola, Montana. That was when one 
of the authors of this report showed up with a large 
buffalo bull skull from an animal he had hunted in 
Black Canyon on the Crow Reservation in 1962 
while working with the Crow tribe's Fish and Game 
division. It was needed for FS's medicine pipe 
bundle ceremony, but at the same time the restric- 
tions associated with FS's rock medicine bundle 
would not let a buffalo head remain under his roof. 
In the case of this Flathead Indian, Blanket Hawk, 
we might infer that his close tie with the buffalo 
world, whether or not due to the fact that the buf- 

falo was his guardian spirit acquired by means of a 
vision quest, was based on respect for the creature 
as a species, or obligation to it as his supernatural 
guardian. In the two narratives already cited, such a 
special relationship had been clearly evidenced. 
However, power works for you or against you; in 
this story the continuing insult shown to the animal 
under Blanket Hawk's own roof sealed his gory 

3. Next comes Chouteh's third narrative con- 
cerning the symbiotic relationship between humans 
and buffalo. Now our protagonist has shifted from 
Blanket Hawk to his son, a young man by the name 
of Susep tatati, or "Hawk." In this story there is more 
of an abbreviated sense of a memorandum, and less 
of a well-developed narrative. Without any preamble 
we are told that Hawk is a "big-sized boy" and we 
sense that he seems to have inherited something of 
his father's personality or inclinations, for we im- 
mediately learn that, "He brought back two buffalo 
from the plains country," and that his intent is to 
keep them alive. After his father's death, his mother. 
Sabine Mary, had remarried a man named Samuel. 
It was near their house, just north of the old Dixon 
Agency, that this particular buffalo herd began to 
increase and multiply. 

But while the boy was away on a trip, two men 
showed up at his parent's place and offered to buy 
the entire bunch. Chouteh gives their names as the 
aforementioned Michael Pablo and Charles Allard. 
and recalls that they paid a thousand and several 
hundred dollars for the entire small herd. As the story 
continues from there: 

The buffalo were herded, going by way of 
Dixon. Ravalli and came through here. They 
were driven by way of where the present 
bridge is now. There were a lot of buffalo. 

When the buffalo came over the hill and the 
Indians here saw the buffalo, they shouted, 
hollering with excitement. The Indians kept 
shouting as the buffalo went by. 

Charles Allard and Michael Pablo already 
had a herd of buffalo. They wanted to in- 
crease their herd. They were the only two 
people who had any buffalo. 

Maybe it was two days later, maybe it was 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

later that [Hawk] returned and missed the 
presence of the buffalo. He looked around 
and found the buffalo gone. 

When he got home, he asked his mother, 
"Where are my buffalo?" 

"They are gone," his mother told him. "Your 
[stepfather] sold them. They were driven off 
several days ago. You have some money in 
the amount of a thousand and several hun- 
dred dollars. Your stepfather has your money. 
We are using some of it for food, bought gro- 

[Hawk] cried, he felt so bad. That was the 
end of that [Tape 95, FCC Transcripts, Cour- 
tesy of Kootenai-Salish Culture Committee]. 

From both this account of the Blanket Hawk 
family, and the earlier story of Walking Coyote, one 
gets the sense that the Pablo- Allard herd, which was 
beneficial to the controlled reestablishment of buf- 
falo in the park, possibly received two infusions 
through Plateau Indian donors. But from the rich, 
latter account, we also get a deeper sense of the sorts 
of mysterious personal affinities and cultural ties that 
linked Indians and these animals. Most importantly, 
as far as the history of Yellowstone National Park is 
concerned, these narratives now help us to appreci- 
ate that crucial relationship between American In- 
dians and Yellowstone's buffalo in both biological 
and cultural terms (for an account of Flathead use 
of buffalo, see Appendix C). 

Connections between the animals of the Yel- 
lowstone Plateau and American Indians did not end 
with the establishment of the park, even though both 
of them fell under increasing control by the Depart- 
ment of the Interior after 1880: the animals were held 
in game refuges while the Indians were held on res- 
ervations. With the congressional outcry over the 
decline of wildlife across the west, uncompromis- 
ing protection and natural replenishment of wild 
stock came to dominate park policy in the 1890s. 
But this strict approach was eventually followed by 
a second period of highly controlled giveaways of 
elk and buffalo. A major donation of buffalo for the 
Crow tribe in 1934 came after energetic lobbying by 
the new native superintendent of the Crow Indian 
Agency, Robert Yellowtail. In this case the Yellow- 

stone National Park herd symbolically paid Indians 
back, so to speak, by supplying 69 cows and 8 bulls 
for a new herd to be pastured on rich grassland in 
the Bull Elk and Black Canyon highlands of the 
Crow Reservation. Trucked about 350 miles from 
Yellowstone to south-central Montana, Yellowtail 
furnished the trucks and raised $750 for other ex- 
penses. The park also provided buffalo to start up 
another Indian herd at Pine Ridge (Sioux) and for 
feeding needy families at Wind River (Shoshone). 
But the Shoshone were also interested in ob- 
taining Yellowstone buffalo to feed their spirit as 
well. As a tourist who visited the Wind River com- 
munity suggested to the park superintendent that 
same summer of 1934: 

...they (members of the Fort Washakie In- 
dian council) remarked how hard it was to 
get buffalo heads and pelts for their ceremo- 
nies; (they said) that you had given them one 
last year but that they were persuaded not to 
come asking again this year, even though you 
would have been more than willing to have 
given them one from surplus. ..Fort 
Washakie Indians wish very much to have a 
little bison herd of their own. They have blind 
canyons where they could winter them; 
plenty of range they say. And since these 
animals mean so much to these plains tribes, 
it hits me as something worth talking over 
with you — this idea of giving them live bi- 
son instead of dead 'uns. Maybe just a rea- 
sonable start. I think I believe they'd come 

Figure 2.11. Elk carcasses in Yellowstone National 
Park before distributing to Indian reservations, 1930s 
(Photo courtesy of Yellowstone National Park Archives, 
Catalog #YELL 28591-2). 

Chapter 2. Blackfeet and Flathead 97 

Figure 2.12. Indian schoolchildren being fed 
Yellowstone National Park elk, 1930s (Photo courtesy 
of Yellowstone National Park Archives, Catalog #YELL 

with pomp and ceremony to drive the bison 
over the hill and to the tribal lands. It might 
make a grand story from the park publicity 
angle; and from the Department of the Inte- 
rior and its two divisions, Parks and Indian 
Affairs, angle. New Deal slant [Denver, RG 
75 BIA, NA-RMR, Wind River Agency, 
General Adminstrative Records. 1890-1960. 
Box 237, folder 920]. 

Nothing came of this idea, but in the case of 
elk, increasingly the park found itself with surplus 
carcasses after periodically culling them in order to 
bring the herd within the constraints imposed by the 
available winter food supply. Initially, the live ani- 
mals and or carcasses were parceled out to zoos, 
state parks, rod and gun clubs and paternal organi- 
zations, but it would take over forty years for them 
to be distributed among needy Indian groups. Four 
animals which were donated to Washington's Na- 
tional Zoological Park in 1892 began the process, 
and the increasing annual shipments continued in- 
termittently through 1967 (Yellowstone National 
Park Archives, Box N-6. 4. File: "Distribution of 
the Elk Shipments"). 

According to park records, the earliest elk car- 
casses to feed indigent Indians entailed about 150 
head which went to Crow Indian Agency in 1935; 
the following year that tribe received 384 with the 
Pine Ridge Sioux agency getting eleven. But it ap- 

pears to have been in 1942 that the park archival 
records accessed by this project seem to reflect in- 
tensified efforts to route elk carcasses to reserva- 
tion agencies requesting food assistance. Some of 
these animals originated from the regularly confis- 
cated remains of animals killed illegally, but most 
were the result of a major program to reduce the 
park's northerly elk herd, estimated at around 13.000 
head, so as to bring the stock within the carrying ca- 
pacity of the park's winter food resources. The 321 
animal carcasses distributed that year to Indians wound 
up on eleven reservations, with Fort Hall getting 16. 
Wind River getting 50. and 70 apiece to the Blackfeet 
and Crow. From park correspondence with both Wind 
River and Blackfeet agencies it also appears that hides 
and hooves for arts and crafts projects were requested 
along with meat (Yellowstone National Park Archives. 
Animals (cont.), Box No. N-20). 

The next and final records we have of such 
elk reduction and meat distribution to Indians oc- 
curred in 1961-62, as "Plan 1" in the park's pro- 
gram for reducing the 5,000-member northern elk 
herd by half involved the distribution of 2.655 ani- 
mals to nearly 41 reservations, schools, hospitals or 
missions to benefit Indians (Yellowstone National 
Park Archives, Final Reduction Report. 1961-62. 
Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd). 

Those older, more subsistence and religious- 
based Indian relationships with buffalo were evoked 
at the end of the winter of 1996-97. as losses to Yel- 
lowstone National Park's herd due to especially 
harsh ice storms, freezing temperatures, footloose 
animals, and motor accidents cut the population by 
over two-thirds. About 300-400 animals were win- 
ter killed because of heavy weather. 41 more were 
struck by vehicles, and another 1.080 which wan- 
dered beyond the park perimeter and were feared to 
contaminate neighboring cattle with brucellosis were 
shot by Montana officials or sent to slaughter. Of 
the original 3,436 bison in the park at the beginning 
of the winter of 1996-97, there were only 1.089 ani- 
mals left in and around the park as of an aerial count 
on conducted on March 18. 1997. It represented "the 
largest slaughter of wild bison this century" 
(Ravndal. April 6. 1997 draft, p. 1 ). 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

For their part, American Indian groups re- 
sponded to these crisis conditions in three ways. One 
Indian response was spiritual, as various tribes 
people joined the protestors who gathered on March 
6, 1997, to pray for buffalo welfare as the full di- 
mensions of this crisis in wildlife management be- 
came clear. Members of the Inter Tribal Bison Co- 
operative convened their National Day of Prayer for 
the buffalo in three locations. The Indians selected 
their date to fit within the very week that the park 
was celebrating its 125th birthday, but it also coin- 
cided with the shooting of the 1,000th animal to 
wander outside the park. One of the prayer groups 
gathered at the Capitol Building in Montana's state 
capital of Helena. In Washington, D.C., President 
Bill Clinton was offered a pipe by tribal elders. Yet 
back near the park's northern entrance in Gardiner, 
Montana, the Montana State Department of Live- 
stock killed 14 buffalo the very same day and Prayer 
Day coordinator, Rosalie Little Thunder, was ar- 
rested for trespassing while trying to say a prayer 
for them. As Lakota Gerald Millard summarized the 
mounting sense of Indian (and non-Indian) sorrow 
and outrage in his remarks on the Capitol steps in 

The snow, once white, is yet again red with 
blood. I am here to speak for the thousand 
who have passed over to the spirit world and 
also those yet in danger. I have come to de- 
mand the stop of the genocide against my 
relatives of the Tatanka Oyate, Buffalo Na- 
tion [Brian O. Daley, in the Casper Star-Tri- 
bune, March 20, 1997]. 

A second Indian response was equally tradi- 
tional but based on subsistence rather than religious 
impulses. The one-time hunters of Yellowstone Pla- 
teau buffalo, the Shoshone of the Wind River Res- 
ervation, argued for the park breaking its old rule 
against hunting in the park to allow Indians and only 
Indians to cull buffalo within the park. 

Given the idea of a buffalo breeding refuge 
introduced in the recently translated Flathead nar- 
ratives which we have reviewed above, the third In- 
dian response may be considered equally "tradi- 
tional," even if it was couched in modern terminol- 
ogy. About forty-one different tribes established the 
Intertribal Bison Cooperative, spearheaded by 
founding president, Fred DuBray, from South 

Dakota's Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. This 
group proposed building a $2 million buffalo com- 
pound on the state's Fort Belknap Indian Reserva- 
tion in northern Montana for quarantining all buf- 
falo who tested negative for the brucellosis disease. 
"To avoid any contamination of tribal cattle," said a 
press report on the proposal, "1,280 acres would be 
encircled by two 8-foot high game-proof fences and 
a third fence of barbed wire" (New York Times, April 
13, 1997, p. 18). 

The buffalo crisis in Yellowstone National Park 
made national television news and became the sub- 
ject of instant documentaries on cable channels. 
Within the park it inspired intense discussions. The 
National Park Service's Intermountain Field Office 
in Denver contracted with Virginia Ravndal to draft 
a social/cultural study of Indian and non-Indian opin- 
ion about the bison/brucellosis issue. During prepa- 
ration of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) 
a new bison-management plan was discussed with 
a host of tribal representatives. The park also orga- 
nized a special, three-day course in September 1998 
on American Indians and Cultural and Natural Re- 
sources Management, reaching out to Indian par- 
ticipants. Greater efforts were made to inform In- 
dian tribes who claimed historical and cultural "af- 
filiation" with Yellowstone National Park about ar- 
chaeological and ethnographic projects. By the year 
2000, when a final draft of the buffalo management 
plan was finally signed, "The list of tribes that have 
expressed concern or interest about bison has grown 
to 84," according to Laura Joss, out-going Chief of 
Yellowstone's Branch of Cultural Resources (Joss 

Northern Indians at the Geysers 

When researcher Joseph Weixelman was in- 
terviewing Indians in 1991 for his report on tradi- 
tional native attitudes towards the Yellowstone gey- 
sers, he visited the Assiniboine Reservation at Wolf 
Point, Montana. There he picked up some of those 
tantalizing fragments of personal narratives which, 
in the past, were conceivably richer in descriptive 
detail and cultural significance. According to one 
Assiniboine, a man named Leslie Four Star, the area 
"where water spouted from the ground" marked the 

Chapter 2. Blackfeet and Flathead 99 

southwestern boundary of traditional Assiniboine ter- 
ritory, and Four Star maintained that this boundary was 
confirmed by where the French placed the tribe. 

Furthermore, Four Star had a dim memory 
of his mother-in-law's grandmother who re- 
called a trip she took to Yellowstone, which 
he claimed would have taken place "in the 
late 1700s or early 1800s" (Her husband, he 
maintained, was born in 1832). At the place 
where the water spouted from the ground 
Four Star speculated that his relatives had 
probably "prayed. . .thanked the Great Spirit 
and asked that the water doesn't come any 
closer" [Interview: September 15, 1991, 1 1:30 
a.m., Wolf Point, Montana]. 

Weixelman was also able to talk with an 86- 
year-old Assiniboine named Chief Blue Bird, who 
was considered "spiritual leader" of the tribe. As a 
young man he had known a much older fellow tribes- 
man named Walking Bull, said to be the step-grand- 
son of Yellowstone Kelly, who had unwittingly vis- 
ited the Yellowstone thermal region. According to 
Chief Blue Bird, Walking Bull had traveled far. He 
got lost and was gone for over a year. Eventually he 
came upon a place where smoke came from the 
ground. His instinctive reaction was to say a prayer. 
Touching the nearby water he discovered that it was 
hot. But when he put his hand in some water not far 
away, it was cold. 

"Maybe it was Thermopolis," said Chief Blue- 
bird, "maybe it was Yellowstone." Later Walking 
Bull found a place that was flat and white and tasted 
like salt. He brought this salt back home and the 
people put it on their meat, and it tasted good. But 
his people did not believe the rest of "those wild 
stories" (Interview: September 14, 1991, 10:00 a.m., 
Wolf Point Lutheran Rest Home). 

The End of Northerly Indian 
Visits to Yellowstone 

Twelve years before the last reported specula- 
tion in 1867 that Blackfeet were possibly maraud- 
ing within the park, the American Blackfeet signed 
a treaty with the U.S. government which, for the 
most part, put a damper on the tribe's forays into 
the Yellowstone highlands. Il was Washington Ter- 

ritorial Governor Isaac Stevens whose series of 
treaty councils through the northwest helped to 
pacify the region for the railroad. 

In the so-called "Judith Treaty" of 1855, the 
Blackfeet signed a pact with Stevens which accepted 
a hunting ground "from the valleys of the Three 
Forks of the Missouri River, east to the upper wa- 
ters of the Yellowstone, an area of 30,000 square 
miles" (Lewis 1942:62). Although this agreement 
seems to have inhibited most of the tribe's long-dis- 
tance missions into the proximity of the park, it 
merely shoved the locales for increasingly bitter 
Blackfeet-settler conflict farther to the north. 

Only smallpox, hunger and the infamous Baker 
massacre of Heavy Runner's camp of Piegans in 
early 1870 finally broke Blackfeet resistence to the 
subsequent treaty proposals that had tried to evict 
them north of the Missouri. By the time they agreed 
to a reservation near Browning, Montana two years 
after the establishment of Yellowstone National Park, 
their intimate memories of its haunts twenty years 
before were already getting rusty. (Although, ironi- 
cally, in 1920 and 1921 the government would push 
for using Blackfeet tribal funds to complete a high- 
way linking that reservation, and Glacier National 
Park, directly to Yellowstone National Park — 
Kappler, Laws Relating to Indian Affairs. 65 Ih Con- 
gress, Sess. III., Ch. 1 19, p. 305 and 66 lh Congress, 
Sess. II.. Ch. 75, p. 249). 

As for the Kootenai-Salish relationship to the 
park region, consultant TT said: 

Our people always had a connection with that 
[greater Yellowstone Region]... Even in the 
valley where Bozeman is today, in Belgrade, 
Manhattan, Livingston, and all that area, 
Helena. Townsend. Great Falls, all that area, 
Butte, the Beaverhead, the Dillon area, all 
those areas are basically Bitterroot Salish 
aboriginal territories. That's where they lived 
for thousands and thousands o\~ years. That 
was before any white contact, before any fur 
traders got there, before anybody. Basically 
all the way to where the Crow Indian reser- 
vation is. and the Northern Cheyenne Indian 
reservation is. our aboriginal territories went 
all the way up to Canada, all the waj to 
Montana and Idaho and Yellow stone Park, a 
vast, vast aboriginal tenitorj [IT Interview, 
Pablo. Montana. August 22. 1995]. 


American Indians and Yellowstone I'.nk 

the High 
Sheep Eater 

This chapter is devoted to reassembling and 
reassessing what scraps we have of information 
about the lifeways of the mountain Shoshoneans 
or "Sheep Eaters," and to restoring some dignity 
in the written record to their cultural milieu and 
their world-view. It borrows almost entirely from 
the work of other writers and their native consult- 
ants, with some of their efforts remaining unpub- 
lished. Even though the following descriptions will 
sometimes seem to be framed within a "timeless 
present," we must never forget that, like all Na- 
tive American societies, the Sheep Eaters of Yel- 
lowstone National Park were also a people of his- 
tory. That is, their modes of adaptation to their 

high-country habitat certainly underwent change 
and development before the coming of Euro- 
Americans, and those adaptations only acceler- 
ated afterwards. Furthermore, at the close of Chap- 
ter 5 we will return to Sheep Eater history as it 
interacts with that of the Wind River Shoshone. 

If there is a time frame to the following sum- 
maries of their customary modes of hunting, for- 
aging, housing, cooking, tool-using, social orga- 
nization or religious practices, it might be around 
A.D. 1850. Yet we will feel free to move back and 
forth in time in order to enrich our sometimes cir- 
cumstantial profile of their culture. But we also 
feel compelled to contextualize these Sheep Eat- 

Figure 3.1. Indian 
lodges near 
Sheepeater Canyon 
Bridge, Yellowstone 
National Park, 1915 
(Photo courtesy of 
Haynes Foundation 
Collection, Montana 
Historical Society, 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 


ers in deeper time, by.presenting the various, com- 
peting archaeological conjectures about their 
longer-term societal development. By way of in- 
troduction, then, let us briefly review some basic 
facts that we do have about these people before 
detailing their material culture, social organiza- 
tion, and religious world-view. 

Properly known in the Shoshonean language 
as Tukudika (Murphy and Murphy 1986:306). 
Tukuarika (Hodge 1910:835) or Tukadudka (Stew- 
ard 1938:186-187), which translates as "eaters of 
meat [or in this case bighorn sheep]," the Sheep 
Eaters are among several other groups of 
Shoshonean-speaking Indians that were recog- 
nized and distinguished among themselves prima- 
rily by their dominant food pursuits. Two other 
important Shoshone groups who frequented the 
region in and around Yellowstone National Park 
included the "salmon eaters," oxAgaidika, and the 
"buffalo eaters," or Kukundika. However, once 
Euro-Americans entered the Rocky Mountain re- 
gion they imposed different names to these groups. 
(a) The Lemhi, also frequently referred to as the 
Northern Shoshone, included a western group of 
Sheep Eaters and the Agaidika or "salmon eat- 
ers." (b) The Eastern Shoshone or Plains Shos- 
hone included primarily the Kukundika or "buf- 
falo eaters." (c) The Sheep Eaters, sometimes 
called the Mountain Shoshone, lived throughout 
the warmer months in Yellowstone National Park 
and the adjacent plateaus, following the bighorn 
sheep as they moved off the high country to seek 
shelter in the winter. To confuse this issue even 
more, much of the early literature on these 
Shoshoneans lumps them all together as "Snake." 

With all the population losses, group 
mergings and fissions, re-namings and forced re- 
locations experienced by the highland 
Shoshoneans featured in this chapter after their 
earliest contact with Euro-Americans in the late 
18th century, it is often hard to trace and distin- 
guish their separate histories over the years. It is 
important to remind ourselves that the confusing, 
multiple references in scholarly literature and gov- 
ernment documents to the Sheep Eaters, the 
Tukudika. the Mountain Shoshone, or the Moun- 
tain Snakes, are probably talking about the same 
people. At the same time, however, we will offer 
a cautionary word when the Sheep Eaters of the 

1870s are mentioned, for in that decade popular 
characterization seems to have tarred two differ- 
ent groups of Shoshonean-Sheep Eaters with the 
same derogatory brush, and created a bit of his- 
torical confusion in the process. 

As for their linguistic identity, scholars con- 
cur that these Shoshonean groups of present-day 
Wyoming and Idaho spoke mutually intelligible 
dialects of the Central Numic division of the Uto- 
Aztecan language stock, with only minor varia- 
tion between them. We get a hint that sounds of 
Sheep Eater language were somewhat more sin- 
gular than the others, since they were reported to 
have a decidedly "slow, singsong speech" 
(Liljeblad 1957:95). but we have little idea how 
that actually sounded. The Bannock, a tribe closely 
related to the Shoshone, speak a northern Paiute 
language from the western Numic Division of Uto- 

These high-altitude-dwelling Shoshoneans 
inhabited the mountainous regions of Wyoming, 
northern Idaho, and southern Montana, and are 
often described as the only permanent residents 
of Yellowstone National Park. But it should also 
be understood that "permanent" does not mean 
that the Sheep Eaters lived in stationary villages 
or fixed locations. They were semi-nomadic hunt- 
ers, whose family bands generally followed the 
migration of the bighorn sheep in much the same 
way year after year. This pattern was recognized 
early on by Yellowstone National Park author 
Charles Phillips: 

Their distribution in the Park was deter- 
mined largely by that of the mountain 
sheep. Col. Norris found a recently de- 
serted encampment in the Lava Creek can- 
yon [on Gardner River south of present 
Bunsen Peak] and named the basalt wall 
above Sheepeater Cliffs in consequence. 
Gen. Sheridan's party which entered the 
Park at Snake River found them in the vi- 
cinity of Mt. Hancock and Mt. Sheridan, 
but the five who accompanied the expedi- 
tion had never seen the geyser regions. The 
shores of Yellowstone Lake seem to have 
been a favorite summer camping ground 
where they could vary their diet with fish. 
The flat open country around Indian Pond 
("Squaw Lake") was much frequented and 
the discovery of a number of obsidian 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

implements and arrowheads during the 
construction of the Lake Shore road would 
indicate that the promontory between the 
Thumb and Lake proper was also used as 
a camp site [Phillips 1927:38-39]. 

Today the Plains Shoshone or Eastern Shos- 
hone, along with descendants of Sheep Eaters, 
reside in Wyoming on the Wind River Reserva- 
tion. In Idaho's Fort Hall Reservation one finds 
the Lemhi, Bannock, and other subgroups of Shos- 
hone, together with others of Sheep Eater ances- 

What follows, then, will constitute a circum- 
stantial outline of Sheep Eater culture history. But 
before that profile we must first look at what ear- 
lier chroniclers thought they knew about 
Yellowstone's resident Indians, and also at the 
legacy of distorted information they left behind. 

Stereotypes About Sheep Eaters 

Few American Indian groups have been 
saddled with as many demeaning and dismissive 
descriptors, heaped on them by non-Indian writ- 
ers over the years, as have the Sheep Eaters of the 
Yellowstone Plateau and mountainous environs. 
Even the California Indians who were historically 
vilified by the pejorative term "Diggers" did not 
have it as bad, for they were not incessantly com- 
pared to any "more advanced" native neighbors. 
However, the Sheep Eaters, often by inference, 
were negatively compared to the more aggressive, 
horse-riding Plains or Plateau Indians around 
them. It was as if, even though Plains Indians were 
far more threatening to Euro-American interests 
once they elevated themselves onto horses in the 
early 18th century, those Plains equestrians at least 
had managed to rise a rung on some evolutionary 
ladder when compared to their high-country neigh- 
bors. They still had to be conquered or killed, but 
to their credit these Plains Indians astride their 
horses were noble, even admirably pugnacious, 
foes. By contrast, the Sheep Eaters were repeat- 
edly described as reclusive, generally fearful of 
confrontation, traveling afoot, dependant upon 
their dogs, and hence were demoted almost to sub- 

human status. Even the literature relating to Yel- 
lowstone National Park reveals how deeply this 
evolutionary prejudice underlay common opinion 
about ethnic distinctions within the greater 
Shoshonean fold: 

The Shoshone Nation was in general char- 
acterized by the small stature of the people, 
who were timid and not of the compara- 
tively high mentality of other neighboring 
tribes. A few of the tribes of this nation 
rose over the general plane of develop- 
ment, were mounted, and occasionally met 
their enemies in open combat . . . Despite 
the fact that these Indians were consider- 
ably above the average of this nation, they 
held the Blackfeet to the north in whole- 
some respect [Mills 1935:22]. 

Within this comparison between Plains and 
Mountain Shoshonean Indians lurked the strong 
echo of an antiquated 19th century theory of soci- 
etal development. This theory held that all cul- 
tures ascended through identical "levels" of cul- 
tural growth. Thus they could be compared on their 
upward advancement, from a level of "savagery" 
to that of "barbarism" to that of "civilization," with 
sub-phases in between. Each level was associated 
with such diagnostic categories as social organi- 
zation, housing, and subsistence practices. In the 
case of our comparison between Sheep Eaters and 
Plains Indians, for example, this meant that they 
were an example of an arrested development: their 
wickiup encampments were less evolved than that 
of a tipi village, their use of dogs lay beneath that 
of their horse-raising neighbors, and their reliance 
on roots and sheep placed them behind the meat- 
eating habits of the buffalo-hunting horsemen. 
They were considered an example of what early 
anthropology dubbed a "survival," stone-age rem- 
nants who never developed beyond an earlier, 
more primitive strata of human development. 
(Conversely, these buffalo-hunting Plains Indians 
could find themselves demoted on the Euro- 
American's evolutionary ladder as well, when their 
seasonal, nomadic utilization of a Montana region 
was placed on a rung lower than that of sedentary 
gardening peoples of North Dakota with their per- 
manent earth lodge villages, in an instance when 
militarism lost out to agriculture as the decisive 
criterion (Miller 1981:109). 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 103 

One of our earliest depictions of the Sheep 
Eaters comes out of an experience in September 
of 1832, when Captain Bonneville and his party 
of trappers were searching for a route over the 
Wind River Mountains. To the west of present- 
day Lander, Wyoming the travelers encountered 
a band of Sheep Eaters. While editing Bonneville's 
journal, Washington Irving occasionally embel- 
lished the material, so we are not certain to what 
degree this description is exclusively Bonneville's. 
But we are aware that Irving was also personally 
familiar with Sheep Eaters, because he mentions 
an 1 8 1 1 run-in with them in the Snake River coun- 
try (Irving 1964:271), and through conversations 
with trappers he may have gathered more bits of 
information. As Bonneville/Irving write in this 
classic early account: 

Notwithstanding the savage and almost 
inaccessible nature of these mountains, 
they have their inhabitants. As one of the 
party was out hunting, he came upon the 
track of a man, in a lonely valley. Follow- 
ing it up, he reached the brow of a cliff, 
whence he beheld three savages running 
across the valley below him. He fired his 
gun to call their attention, hoping to in- 
duce them to turn back. They only fled the 
faster, and disappeared among the rocks. 
The hunter returned and reported what he 
had seen. Captain Bonneville at once con- 
cluded that these belonged to a kind of 
hermit race, scanty in number, that inhabit 
the highest and most inaccessible fast- 
nesses. They speak the Shoshone lan- 
guage, and probably are offsets from that 
tribe, though they have peculiarities of 
their own which distinguish them from all 
other Indians. They are miserably poor, 
own no horses, and are destitute of every 
convenience to be derived from an inter- 
course with the whites. Their weapons are 
bows and stone-pointed arrows, with 
which they hunt the deer, the elk, and the 
mountain sheep. They are to be found scat- 
tered about the countries of the Shoshone, 
Flathead, Crow, and Blackfeet tribes; but 
their residences are always in lonely 
places, and the clefts of the rocks. 

Their footsteps are often seen by the trap- 
pers in the high and solitary valleys among 
the mountains, and the smokes of their 

fires descried among the precipices, but 
they themselves are rarely met with, and 
still more rarely brought to a parley, so 
great is their shyness and their dread of 

As their poverty offers no temptation to 
the marauder, and as they are inoffensive 
in their habits, they are never the objects 
of warfare; should one of them, however, 
fall into the hands of a war party, he is sure 
to be made a sacrifice, for the sake of that 
savage trophy, a scalp, and that barbarous 
ceremony, a scalp dance. These forlorn 
beings, forming a mere link between hu- 
man nature and the brute, have been 
looked down upon with pity and contempt 
by the Creole trappers, who have given 
them the appellation of "les dignes de 
pitie '," or "the objects of pity." They ap- 
pear more worthy to be called the wild men 
of the mountains [Irving 1961:192-193]. 

Another famous early description of the 
Sheep Eaters comes from an articulate Rocky 
Mountain trapper named Osborne Russell 
(1965:26). His meeting with a handful of them 
took place in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone 
National Park in 1834. Skillfully edited and geo- 
graphically retraced with maps prepared by 
Aubrey Haines, Russell's commentary offers im- 
portant details of Sheep Eater material culture, 
which will also be cited in our sections on their 
technology, and he appears somewhat impressed 
by the Sheep Eater lifestyle: 

Here we found a few Snake Indians . . . 
who were the only Inhabitants of this 
lonely and secluded spot. They were all 
neatly clothed in dressed deer and Sheep 
skins of the best quality and seemed to be 
perfectly contented and happy. They were 
rather surprised at our approach and re- 
treated to the heights where they might 
have a view of us without apprehending 
any danger, but having persuaded them of 
our pacific intentions we then succeeded 
in getting them to encamp with us [Rus- 
sell 1965:26). 

During the night the trappers traded with the 
Sheep Eaters, and with charcoal on a whitened 
elk skin one of them drew the trappers a map of 
their territory. Traveling through the Lamar Val- 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

ley on the route depicted by the Indian cartogra- 
pher, Russell and his companions camped some- 
where near the junction of the Lamar and the Yel- 
lowstone rivers. That night he rhapsodized about 
this Sheep Eater landscape: 

For my own part I almost wished I could 
spend the remainder of my days in a place 
like this where happiness and contentment 
seemed to reign in wild romantic splen- 
dor surrounded by majestic battlements 
which seemed to support the heavens and 
shut out all hostile intruders [Russell 

So far these early descriptions of Sheep Eat- 
ers leave us with contradictory cultural percep- 
tions and contextual moods. On the one hand, they 
are portrayed as miserably poor, naked and for- 
lorn beings who are a close link between humans 
and brutes, and are considered "objects of pity;" 
on the other hand, they are depicted as neatly 
clothed, contented and happy, a people with whom 
it would be enjoyable to spend the remainder of 
one's days. This polarized picture opens our pro- 
file of the "mysterious" Sheep Eaters, who 
throughout the literature will be continually rep- 
resented in this contradictory way: as either "so- 
cial outcasts" who fall not much above apes on 
the evolutionary scale, or as the epitome of noble 
savages who lived in a state of grace with nature. 
Ake Hultkrantz has pointed out, even though early 
texts presented them as squalid and impoverished, 
the more romantic image arising from Russell's 
reminiscences has also persisted over time: 

The story of "the wild men of the moun- 
tains," shy inhabitants of the inaccessible 
mountain vastness, whose footsteps and 
camp smoke only may be seen, spread rap- 
idly. It was in due time built on with new 
details: the sheepeaters were pygmies and 
wild men living like animals, or they were 
the most dignified and morally "clean" of 
all Indian tribes. Their disappearance from 
the ethnographic scene was ascribed to a 
dramatic disaster of one kind or another. 
The mystification went so far that the 
Shoshoni Indians on the Wind River Res- 
ervation heard rumors of wild mountain 
men, and that one investigator of Shoshoni 
folklore even thought that the belief in 
dwarf spirits went back to the general pic- 

ture of the Sheepeaters [Hultkrantz n.d. 

But in the long run the accounts of these 
mountain dwellers, whether cobbled together from 
unsubstantiated rumors or cannibalized from ear- 
lier published misinformation, produced a pre- 
dominantly negative portrayal of Sheep Eaters, as 
evidenced in the comments about them by a 
Washakie National Forest ranger in 1926: 

They were renegade Indians, who, for the 
sake of safety and perhaps convenience, 
with the age old fellowship of man, banded 
together where possible and lived their 
lives in the mountain fastnesses. They had 
evidently violated various tribal laws and 
did not belong to any fixed tribe, having 
been compelled on penalty of death to live 
as fugitives. At times they preyed upon 
small parties or lone Indians for the pur- 
pose of equipping themselves with such 
implements or weapons as were obtain- 
able, or possibly to steal a squaw, return- 
ing at once to their mountain retreats. They 
were not warlike but were supposed to 
have been cowardly and shy, which, un- 
der the circumstances is easily understood. 
Plainly they were social outcasts [Clayton 

Sixty-five years later disparaging stereotypes 
about Sheep Eaters had not much changed, when 
a former chief ranger of Yellowstone National Park 
wrote in his memoirs: 

Known as the Tukudikas, or 
"Sheepeaters," they had been considered, 
as I have said, the lowliest of the low in 
the Shoshone Indian tribes. Lacking either 
the will or the courage to compete in a 
world upset by the introduction of the 
horse and gun, they sought to eke out an 
existence in the then mostly undesired rug- 
ged country... They stayed mostly to them- 
selves, were timid, small in stature... Dirty, 
destitute, primitive... the Sheep eaters were 
anything but fodder for the Indian ro- 
mancer [Sholly and Newman 1991:106- 

It is out of the accumulation of such demean- 
ing and inconsistent descriptions and images that 
we have isolated the following five popular con- 
ceptions and stereotypes about these one-time 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 


dwellers of Yellowstone National Park: 

1. The Sheep Eaters were pygmies with di- 
minutive limbs and stature. 

2. Because the Sheep Eaters were timid, and 
so low on the evolutionary scale, they were 
probably feeble-minded. 

3. Like all the Indian tribes of the region, the 
Sheep Eaters were afraid of the geysers. 

4. The Sheep Eaters were a poor people, liv- 
ing on the edge of starvation, who lacked 
the appropriate technology to take care of 
themselves. Coupled within this is the mis- 
conception that the Sheep Eaters had no dogs 
or other beasts of burden. 

5. The Sheep Eaters were an impure, motley 
crew of renegades whose misdeeds had ex- 
iled them from various tribes, and who 
banded together like fugitives to prey on the 

Responding to Popular 
Conceptions About Sheep Eaters 

Throughout the historical record, we learn 
that each one of these stereotypes or misconcep- 
tions had their advocates. Often one of these ques- 
tionable characterizations was simply recycled 
from an earlier comment, which helped to cement 
the generally degrading image not only in public 
opinion but also in the writings of those who might 
have known better; as recently as 1994, for ex- 
ample, the portrait of Sheep Eaters by a well- 
known historian was that they were "poor even 
for Indians" (Aubrey Haines lecture in Mammoth, 
Yellowstone National Park, 1994). Taking each of 
the above listed distortions or misconceptions in 
turn, however, it is possible to outline their early 
protagonists and to debate their accuracy. 

/. Sheep Eaters Were Pygmies. The first 
person to describe the Sheep Eaters as "pygmies" 
was none other than the second superintendent of 
Yellowstone National Park. Philetus Norris. In his 
annual report for 1880 Norris writes: 

The only real occupants of the Park were 
the pygmy tribe of three or four hundred 
timid and harmless Sheepeater Indians. 

who seem to have won this appellation on 
account of their use of the bighorn sheep 
for food and clothing [Norris 1881a:35). 

One wonders how Norris arrived at this con- 
clusion, because he personally visited the Ross 
Fork Agency of Sheep Eaters. Bannocks and 
Shoshones to elicit their pledge not to visit the 
park (Norris 188ia:45). He must have met some 
of these Indians and seen for himself that they were 
not stunted dim-wits. To be sure, the Sheep Eat- 
ers were not tall people and as a group were me- 
dium to short in stature, resembling the general 
build of Great Basin Indians. Their bones have 
been described as more gracile than robust (Gill 
1991), but one should not take this to mean they 
were incapable of feats of strength. After all, the 
Sheep Eaters regularly strung and shot horn bows 
with a pull strength of about sixty-five pounds, 
and after witnessing the difficulty today's experi- 
enced bowhunters had with attempting to string 
one of his horn bows, Wyoming bow-maker Tom 
Lucas concluded these Indians had to possess con- 
siderable upper body strength (Personal commu- 
nication, July 8, 1995). 

As with all ethnic groups, there were some 
Sheep Eaters who did not fit the norm. There was 
Togwotee, for example, perhaps the best-known 
of the Sheep Eaters because he assumed a role as 
a sub-chief under Washakie, who Ake Hultkrantz 
heard was tall, slim, crook-nosed and "looked like 
a Sioux Indian" (Hultkrantz n.d. 1:18), and Hult- 
krantz personally interviewed a Sheep Eater, CS, 
born in 1 885, whom he described as "tall and slim" 
(Hultkrantz n.d. 1:61). If the average height and 
build of Sheep Eaters were small in comparison 
to Plainsmen like the Crow — whose Missouri 
River cousins, the Hidatsa. were famously tall — 
there was clearly variation among individuals. 
While they were positively not "pygmies," a wider 
understanding of Norris' agenda regarding Indi- 
ans in Yellowstone suggests that by describing 
them as diminutive he might have been trying to 
diminish the shadows of their presence in "his" 

Unfortunately the characterization was em- 
braced by trusted scholars of the day. and appears 
in their writings even when Norris is not credited. 
As Coutant, a distinguished Wyoming historian, 
describes the Sheep Eaters: 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Not cultivating the acts of war, they be- 
came a timid and inoffensive tribe, mar- 
rying among themselves and at last be- 
came dwarfed and were despised by war- 
like nations [Coutant 1899:705]. 

Here Coutant has added insult to injury by 
suggesting that their allegedly stunted size was 
caused by eschewing war and inbreeding. Even 
the noted Yellowstone National Park historian, 
Hiram Chittenden, was coerced into imagining the 
Sheep Eaters as lacking size and intelligence. Fol- 
lowing the Bonneville/Irving line, he describes 
them as: 

These hermits of the mountains, whom the 
French trappers called "les dignes de 
pitie," have engaged the sympathy or con- 
tempt of explorers since our earliest 
knowledge of them. Utterly unfit for war- 
like contention, they seem to have sought 
immunity from their dangerous neighbors 
by dwelling in the fastnesses of the moun- 
tains. They were destitute of even savage 
comforts . . . Their rigorous existence left 
its mark on their physical nature. They 
were feeble in mind and diminutive in stat- 
ure, and are described as a "timid, harm- 
less race" [Chittenden 1964:11]. 

2. Sheep Eaters Were Timid and Feeble- 
Minded. In the foregoing depiction of Sheep Eat- 
ers, Chittenden also managed to introduce the sec- 
ond misconception that they were fearful and dim- 
witted. After Chittenden it was not uncommon to 
hear Yellowstone National Park and non-park 
commentators refer to the Sheep Eaters as "a weak 
and degenerate race, wholly unfitted to hold their 
own" (Phillips 1927:32). Well acquainted with the 
park's interpretative programs over the years, Yel- 
lowstone veteran Paul Schullery recently summa- 
rized these Chittenden-instigated notions of Sheep 
Eater mental competence and the presumed de- 
gree of weakened fortitude which derived from 

They are the most maligned of the native 
groups that used Yellowstone. When I 
came to work in the park in 1972, park edu- 
cational programs still presented 
Chittenden's view that the Sheepeaters 
were culturally deprived weaklings, hid- 
ing in a few remote areas of Yellowstone 

because they simply couldn't survive any- 
place else [Schullery 1997:24]. 

Well into the present century one continued 
to hear this characterization of Sheep Eaters as 
excessively shy and retiring, with Nedward M. 
Frost writing in 1941 that, "Explorers left few 
records concerning these now extinct Indians, 
probably because their extreme shyness made it 
difficult to approach them" (Frost 1941: 17). 

Coupled with their alleged mental inferior- 
ity, this belief led to the conclusion that Sheep 
Eaters were unable to defend themselves. Again, 
the subtext of this characterization seems to have 
been a sort of highly dubious equivalence between 
pugnacity and heightened brain-power. Yet even 
favorable assessments of the Sheep Eaters have 
accepted this equivalence, as Sarah Olden writes, 
"This band [of Sheep Eaters] was more intelli- 
gent, and very warlike" (Olden 1923:13). While 
Olden offers no documentation for her declara- 
tion, Ake Hultkrantz turned up an older discus- 
sion of Sheep Eater mental capacity from a Middle 
Oregon Indian agent named R. R. Thompson, who 
wrote in 1854: 

The Mountain Snake Indians are a branch 
of the Root Diggers, (who, in the extreme 
south, are presumed to be the lowest or- 
der of the aboriginal race,) and have a com- 
mon language. They occupy the country 
on the north and east of Fort Hall, and to 
the south to include Bear River valley. 
These Indians gradually improve in their 
habits and intelligence as they approach 
the northern and eastern extremities of 
their country [Thompson 1854:490]. 

But even when they are introduced for posi- 
tive rather than negative commentary, most of the 
amateurish or anecdotal speculations about the 
relative mental capacity of Sheep Eaters have the 
nasty ring of the sort of pseudo-scientific, racist 
criteria which is often used to denigrate or aggran- 
dize other cultures. If physical and cultural an- 
thropology have taught us anything about mod- 
ern populations, it is the futility of making such 
comparisons, especially on the basis of such un- 
controlled rumor and hearsay. It might be far more 
worthwhile to simply examine closely Sheep Eater 
adaptations to surviving in the mountains. In their 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 107 

material culture and technology, as we shall soon 
see, will lie ample evidence of their basic intelli- 
gence and good practical sense. 

3. Sheep Eaters Were Afraid of Geysers. A 
third misconception that needs to be laid to rest is 
that Sheep Eaters were terrified of Yellowstone's 
geysers. Although this notion may be more closely 
associated with other Indian wayfarers through the 
park, a few words about Sheep Eaters and the Yel- 
lowstone National Park thermal field are in order. 
In more than one treatise, Ake Hultkrantz cham- 
pioned this misconception (Hultkrantz 1954; 
1 979), but closer inspection of his writings reveals 
a confusion and contradiction to the theory which 
will always be associated with his name. In a single 
essay he speculates that "the Sheepeaters shunned 
the geyser areas — and the reason for this can 
scarcely have been anything but fear" (Hultkrantz 
1 954:46), but then he offers these comments from 
George Wesaw, a Shoshone Indian: 

The Indians prayed to the geysers because 
they believed that there were spirits inside 
them. Sometimes, when nearing enemies, 
they let the water from the geysers spray 
over themselves so they became invisible 
[Hultkrantz 1954:44]. 

This man was a direct descendant of the 
"Wesaw" who was also Colonel Norris' foremost 
Indian informant. At one point the older Wesaw 
had told Norris that the Shoshone, Bannock and 
Crow "occasionally visited Yellowstone Lake and 
river portion of the park, but seldom the geyser 
regions, which he declared were 'heap, heap bad,' 
and never wintered there, as whites sometimes did 
with horses" (Norris 1 88 1 b:38). We might hear in 
this mock-Indian English expression "heap, heap 
bad" an echo of Norris's infamous poetry that 
more than one writer has declared "unfit for hu- 
man ears," but more importantly we should give 
the Indian's words the credit for being a precise 
response to Norris' query as to whether any tribes 
wintered near the geysers. The thrust of Wesaw's 
answer is that the geyser area was a bad place to 
berth horses over a winter. Behind his response 
must also have been Wesaw's awareness, passed 
on from him to subsequent generations, that spir- 
its lived at the geysers, and that places where pow- 
erful spirits dwell are rarely suitable locations for 

the everyday activities of hunting, gathering, and 

Hultkrantz (1954:49) knew full well that to 
the Shoshone hot springs and geysers were the 
abodes of spirits who could help or harm human 
beings. Besides those in Yellowstone National 
Park, the best-known thermal pools are found at 
Thermopolis, Wyoming. According to the Shos- 
hone, a gigantic "dragon" formerly lived there, as 
well as the water creatures known as pan dzoavits 
and water ghosts who made the water boil. As 
George Wesaw explained to him, such powerful 
spirits within geysers and thermal pools could be 
propitiated with prayers. The same essay has Hult- 
krantz pinpointing these places of religious power 
as the sites which actually attracted Shoshone who 
were seeking supernatural power: 

... a centre of religious power having the 
indifferent character of natural force does 
not act only negatively; he who knows the 
secret may turn its destructive activity into 
useful constructive force. The Shoshone 
knew that the sacred springs could be uti- 
lized for positive purposes. As we have 
seen, the hot jet of geyser provided invis- 
ibility medicine [Hultkrantz 1954:49-50]. 

Throughout the Shoshone realm were steam- 
ing, mysterious spots which contained these in- 
visible, spiritual forces. On the one hand they were 
certainly held in healthy respect, even awe; on the 
other, contact with them was an absolute requi- 
site for personal success. It is known that the most 
respected Sheep Eater leader and medicine man. 
Togwotee, had this pan dzoavits as his personal 
power; it may not be far-fetched to speculate that, 
like the Crow Indian medicine man known as The 
Fringe, he sought the supernatural being out dur- 
ing an arduous fast near the Yellowstone thermal 
field. If so, certainly Togwotee would have felt 
some fear as well — who would not be somewhat 
anxious about spending three or four days and 
nights alone beside the thundering geysers, ab- 
staining from food and water, awaiting the won- 
drous and powerful spirits who lived there? Indi- 
viduals seeking power often speak of their fear 
while waiting for a visit from the supernatural, 
but after the event they have respect for the power 
rather than fear. Survival in Yellowstone National 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Park depended upon the ability of the Sheep Eat- 
ers to live in accord with such "frightening" natu- 
ral forces as blizzards, grizzly bears, and thunder- 
storms, as well as geysers. Encountering any one 
of them took caution and experience, and on oc- 
casions when one was transacting with their spir- 
its, respect and prayer. 

4. Sheep Eaters Were Paupers. The fourth 
misconception is that Sheep Eaters were a pov- 
erty-stricken lot, barely surviving on the verge of 
starvation. The explanation often provided for 
their sorry state is that the Sheep Eaters were 
forced into the mountains by the advanced and 
more militaristic tribes of the lowlands. Among 
recent references where this idea is still circulated, 
one is actually found within a curriculum hand- 
book for the Wind River Reservation where it 
states, "It is probable that the Sheep Eaters of Yel- 
lowstone National Park were stragglers of the 
Northern Shoshones driven into and forced to live 
in the high mountains by their enemies" (Anony- 
mous ca. 1985:9). Implicit in the misconception is 
a picture of the Sheep Eaters as second-class los- 
ers scrounging for survival in an unforgiving land- 

The idea that Sheep Eaters were "miserably 
poor" was prevalent among the chroniclers who 
had only chance encounters with them. In the 
north, it apparently originates from the Lewis and 
Clark journeys, following the killing of a deer by 
one of the expedition's hunters on Friday August 
16, 1805. According to Meriwether Lewis, after a 
dash to the spot where the deer had been dressed 
by the hunter, the Mountain Shoshone (Lemhi): 

all dismounted and ran tumbling over each 
other like famished dogs, each man tore 
away at whatever part he could, and in- 
stantly began to eat it; some had the liver, 
some the kidneys, in short no part with 
which we look with disgust escaped them; 
one of them who had seized about nine 
feet of entrails was chewing at one end, 
while with his hands he was diligently 
clearing his way by discharging the con- 
tents at the other [Lewis and Clark 1904- 

This quotation was highlighted in a popular 
anthropology text book Man in the Primitive 
World by E. Adamson Hoebel. First published in 

1949, the book sustained many printings and was 
used by tens of thousands of anthropology stu- 
dents in colleges and universities across America. 
In his discussion of the Shoshone, Hoebel main- 
tains that "fear of starvation constantly haunted 
the Shoshones" (Hoebel 1949:102). The old im- 
age that the hunting and gathering cultures which 
early Euro- Americans found throughout aborigi- 
nal California, the Great Basin and the Rocky 
Mountain Highlands lived with the wolf always 
at their door was recycled into the 20th century. 
Not until 1966 did scholars challenge this 
conventional wisdom. That was when an interna- 
tional conference on Hunters and Gatherers used 
finer-grained data based on ethnographic field- 
work to reappraise the life- ways of band-size hunt- 
ers and gatherers. Inspired by the methodology of 
Richard B. Lee among the San-!Kung Bushmen 
of South Africa (Lee 1965; Lee and DeVore 1968), 
anthropologists followed hunters and gatherers on 
their daily tasks, paid particular attention to what 
they ate and drank, then analyzed their food sup- 
ply to learn its caloric and nutritional value. They 
realized that, by and large, most hunters and gath- 
erers enjoyed a reliable and varied food base, sub- 
sisting on plants far more than meat (ratio of 4: 1 
in dry environments), working only at intensive 
intervals to satisfy their food needs, living to old 
ages with minimal worries over survival. Although 
some of this ground-breaking research has been 
re-evaluated in recent years, the general conclu- 
sion remains viable. Among fairly small (30 to 40 
individuals), mobile and socially flexible hunting 
and gathering peoples, their lifestyle was an im- 
pressively successful subsistence strategy which 
required periodic bursts of effort followed by lei- 
surely intervals for enjoying such freedom from 
want that the label of "the world's original leisure 
society" was bestowed on them. Some of Lee's 
reflections on the subsistence patterns of South 
African natives might provide a corrective guide 
towards the reappraisal of a band-based, hunt- 
ing-and-gathering lifestyle such as that of the 
Sheep Eaters as well: 

Over the course of a year, the picture of 
steady work, steady leisure and adequate 
diet was maintained. ..In assuming that 
their life must be a constant struggle for 
existence, we succumb to the ethnocen- 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 


trie notions that place our own Western ad- 
aptation at the pinnacle of success and 
make all other second or third best. Judged 
by these standards, the !Kung are bound 
to fail. But judged on their own terms, they 
do pretty well for themselves. 

If I had to point to one single feature that 
makes this way of life possible, I would 
focus on sharing. Each !Kung is not an 
island unto himself or herself; each is part 
of a collective. It is a small, rudimentary 
collective, and at times a fragile one, but 
it is a collective nonetheless. What I mean 
is that the living group pools the resources 
that are brought into camp so that every- 
one receives an equitable share. The !Kung 
and people like them don't do this out of 
nobility of soul or because they are made 
of better stuff than we are. In fact, they 
often gripe about sharing. They do it be- 
cause it works for them and it enhances 
their survival. Without this core of shar- 
ing, life for the !Kung would be harder and 
infinitely less pleasant [Lee 1984:55]. 

Before painting a picture that makes Sheep 
Eater life too rosy, we should remember that at 
certain times hunters and gatherers did face times 
of food shortages, even those whose territories in- 
clude bountiful resources. As we are reminded by 
Colson (1979) quoting the research of Aginsky 
( 1939) the Indians of central California who for- 
merly inhabited one of the richest biomes in the 
world had memories of years when there was hun- 
ger. Colson ( 1 979:20) suggests that a five-fold plan 
can help alleviate periods of starvation. This plan 
includes the reliance upon a diversified food base 
wherein the hunters and gatherers exploit multiple 
animal and plant species, the storage or preserva- 
tion of some foodstuffs, the use of and the trans- 
mission of knowledge regarding what might be 
called "famine foods," the conversion of surplus 
food into durable articles that could be exchanged 
for food in times of scarcity, and the cultivation 
of a strong set of social relations that could be 
called upon to help in times of food shortage. We 
know that the Sheep Eaters practiced several of 
the points in this strategy. They exploited a wide 
array of animal and plant foods; they dried fish 
and meat as well as root plants and berries; they 
apparently would have known about starvation 

foods, like the cambium of pine trees available 
during the winter; they could have traded surplus 
food for other objects and they had access to other 
valuable resources, such as obsidian, for trade; and 
they maintained a network of relatives and friends 
to rely upon in times of scarcity. Of all these the 
last was probably the most important because the 
Sheep Eaters lived in such a fluid social organi- 
zation that they could have moved to a neighbor- 
ing group when resources were tight. 

With the abundant supplies of bighorn sheep, 
fish and root plants in their mountainous territory, 
it seems unlikely they were starving or destitute. 
During the Standifer gold-prospecting expedition 
of 1 866 into Yellowstone country. A.B. Henderson 
was dispatched to "hunt up the Sheep Eaters camp 
for the purposes of trading skins etc. with them, 
as we knew they had hundreds of fine sheep skins 
and furs of all kinds." When they finally connected 
with the group of some sixty Sheep Eaters, they 
shared a meal and then traded for the sheepskins 
and martin furs (Henderson 1866:19-20). 

Although these Sheep Eaters were certainly 
eager to obtain the white man's trade goods in ex- 
change, they do not sound impoverished. Nor do 
the Sheep Eaters whom Osborne Russell found 
in his famous encounter with the Indians in the 
Lamar Valley to which we have already re- 

Here we found a few Snake Indians com- 
prising 6 men 7 women and 8 or 10 chil- 
dren who were the only inhabitants of this 
lonely and secluded spot. They were all 
neatly clothed in dressed deer and Sheep 
skins of the best quality and seemed to be 
perfectly contented and happy . . . Their 
personal property consisted of one old 
butcher Knife nearly worn to the back two 
old shattered fusees which had long since 
become useless for want of ammunition a 
Small Stone pot and about 30 dogs upon 
which they carried their skins, clothing, 
provisions etc on their hunting excursions. 
They were well armed with bows and ar- 
rows pointed with obsidian. The bows 
were beautifully wrought from Sheep. 
Buffalo and Elk horns secured with Deer 
and Elk sinews and ornamented with por- 
cupine quills and generally about 3 feet 
long. We obtained a large number of Elk 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Deer and Sheep skins from them of the 
finest quality and three large neatly dressed 
Panther Skins in return for awls axes 
kettles tobacco ammunition etc. They 
would throw the skins at our feet and say 
"give us whatever you please for them we 
are satisfied. We can get plenty of skins" 
[Russell 1965:26-27]. 

If this description purports to represent a 
people on their last legs, how were they feeding 
30 dogs? If they had to struggle all day to feed 
themselves, how did they find time to dress skins 
of the finest quality and make beautifully wrought 
bows? If they were so poor, why would they throw 
skins at the feet of the trappers in exchange for 
their goods? The Sheep Eaters themselves an- 
swered the last question for us — they could get 
plenty of skins and, of course, we must remember 
those skins were attached to edible flesh. It is true 
that they were poor in guns, knives and horses, 
but that did not prevent this band of 23 Sheep 
Eaters from living what in their view might have 
been considered the good life. 

5. Sheep Eaters Were Renegades. The fifth 
misconception is that the term Tukudika, or 
"Sheep Eaters," referred less to any distinct group 
but was actually a cover term for a loose amal- 
gam of ostracized members of different tribes who 
had only recently banded together in the moun- 
tains, a sort of Rocky Mountain version of the in- 
famous Comancheros of the Texas Plains. In this 
incarnation the Sheep Eaters are seen as the flip 
side of retiring or timid; they are nasty savages 
who desire to wreak havoc on whites. This image 
of Sheep Eaters appears to have been prevalent in 
the 1870s, as a member of the William A. Jones 
expedition into northwestern Montana in the sum- 
mer of 1873 reported about the stray bands of 
Sheep Eaters in the park: 

There is very little, if any, danger from 
hostile Indians in the park at present. Small 
parties of Bannocks, Mountain Crow or 
Snakes, ('Sheep-eaters'), might try to steal 
something, but they are arrant cowards 
[Jones 1875:22]. 

While omitting the negative commentary, W. 
P. Clark also transmitted the notion of the Sheep 
Eaters as a polyglot group: 

They were supposed by many authorities 
to be a separate tribe, differing in language, 
habits, and physical peculiarities from all 
the tribes which surrounded them, while 
others claimed that they were offshoots 
from the Shoshones, Bannocks, Flatheads, 
Pend d' Oreilles, Nez Perces, Crows, and 
Blackfeet, and that their poverty alone 
forced them to this peculiar life apart from 
their tribe [Clark 1885:334]. 

Of much the same mind was the fur trader 
Alexander Ross: 

The Ban-at-tees, or mountain Snakes, live 
a predatory and wandering life in the re- 
cesses of the mountains, and are to be 
found in small bands or single wigwams 
among the caverns and rocks. They are 
looked upon by the real Sho-Sho-nes 
themselves as outlaws, their hand against 
every man, and every man's hand against 
them. They live chiefly by plunder. Friends 
and foes are alike to them [Ross 1 855:240- 

These comments seem to forecast the gen- 
eral characterization, if not the specific misnomer, 
expressed by Chief Washakie of the Wind River 
Shoshone in 1879, who was quoted by the Shos- 
hone Indian agent as complaining about the same 
"good many bad Indians" whom the whites at the 
time were often lumping together as Sheep Eaters 
(James I. Patten, U.S. Indian Agency, Shoshone 
and Bannock Agency, to Hon. E. A. Hayt, Com- 
missioner of Indian Affairs, Washington D.C., 
June 11, 1879). This image of Sheep Eaters as a 
culture-less and lawless band of predators re- 
mained intact over the years and other writers 
continued to uncritically pass on the idea, as 
Daniels wrote in 1953, "The origin of the tribe is 
rather obscure. Some authorities believe them to 
have been renegades and undesirables who were 
ostracized from other tribes and ultimately took 
to the mountains where they banded together to 
form their own groups" (Daniels 1953:24). 

But behind these negative and inconsistent 
characterizations seems to lie a case of mistaken 
identity. Each of the former writers or speakers 
appears to have been confusing two different 
groups of "Sheep Eaters." Instead of referring to 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 


the Wyoming Tukudika, the Sheep Eaters who are 
the main subject of this chapter, they appear to 
have been discussing a group along the Salmon 
River country in Idaho which resisted white domi- 
nation. As this mistake was dissected by author 
Keith Barrette: 

The Tukudika are often confused with a 
small polyglot group of Indians, number- 
ing about 200, who once ranged the 
Salmon River Mountains of Idaho... The 
error began in the late 1860s when the 
Salmon River country was first beginning 
to be settled. To these early-day prospec- 
tors and settlers an Indian was an Indian. 
They dubbed the band made up of excom- 
municated Bannack, Shoshoni and Nez 
Perce as 'Renegade Sheepeaters' [Barrette 

It was these "predatory" bands of so-called 
"Sheep Eaters" (whom one of Hultkrantz's Shos- 
hone informants distinguished by the term 
tidibiano — Hultkrantz 1956:187), who contrib- 
uted to the hostilities of 1877-1878 in the Salmon 
River district of Idaho. They appear to have been 
only distantly related to the Sheep Eaters of the 
Wind River and the Yellowstone Plateau. But the 
confusion between these two disparate groups may 
have been reinforced by the fact that the Idaho 
marauders were said to have appropriated 
Tukudika camps, from which they launched their 
horse-stealing raids and attacks on mining camps 
on the South Fork of the Salmon River. This led 
to the short-lived "Sheepeater War," to be de- 
scribed in Chapter 4. 

Whence Came the Sheep Eaters?: 
Competing Theories 

The spread of bands and tribes who were 
related through their common use of the language 
stock we call Numic are not easy for outsiders to 
put into an understandable, cultural whole. They 
tend to irritate those who prefer to have their In- 
dian tribes with fixed names and unchangeable 
identities, living within clear and distinct territo- 
rial boundaries and exhibiting a life-style that fits 
neatly into predetermined categories of the clas- 
sic "types" of Indian culture. The Sheep Eaters, 

for instance, do not seem at all like Plains Indi- 
ans, and their reputation has suffered by compari- 
son. Nor are they really Plateau Indians, although 
they do share numerous traits of those river-dwell- 
ing and root-gathering peoples. And some of their 
representatives on the fringe of the Numic-speak- 
ing world do not even exhibit many of the traits 
that would seem to grant them a Great Basin iden- 

To discover just "what kind of Indian" these 
Sheep Eaters were, we might begin by asking how 
they became so. And to investigate that question 
we must delve into one of the great conundrums 
in American prehistory: the spread of the peoples 
who spoke branch dialects of the Numic language 
family. There are few open questions that are more 
intensely debated by American archaeologists, lin- 
guists and anthropologists, and entire conferences 
have been devoted to this subject. A proliferating 
series of scenarios have been put forth for the pre- 
historic migrations of Shoshonean peoples 
throughout western North America (see Madsen 
and Rhode 1994). Narrowing this broad area of 
inquiry to the matter of the western and eastern 
Shoshone Indians proper, and to the Sheep Eaters 
in particular, we will try and simplify the prevail- 
ing arguments into the following four hypotheses, 
each with its own proponents: 

/. A Great Basin Source — Recent Origins. 
The theory which argues that Shoshoneans have 
lived in the north for a relatively brief length of 
time has been advanced by archaeologists B. Rob- 
ert Butler and Gary Wright. They argue that an 
A.D. 1300 date for the arrival of the Shoshone is 
about twice too old. Citing data from archaeologi- 
cal work in the Teton Mountains on the Wyoming/ 
Idaho border, Wright (1978) believes the Eastern 
Shoshone did not arrive until the historic period, 
while for his part Butler is reluctant to accept any 
more than a few centuries of time-depth for the 
Shoshone occupation of Idaho (Butler 1981). 

To make his case. Butler points out that some 
offshoots of the southwestern maize-cultivating 
culture of prehistory, which scholars term the 
"northern Fremont." lived in southern Idaho. 
Based upon ceramic evidence, they also appear 
to be related to a Fremont division found around 
the Great Salt Lake. But the Idaho Fremont are 
believed to have persisted longer than their south- 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

ern counterparts, based on analysis of Great Salt 
Lake Fremont ceramics which turned up in Wil- 
son Butte Cave and were dated at AD 1525 + 150 
(Butler 1986: 1 3 1-133). Therefore Butler has con- 
cluded that the Shoshone, who presumably re- 
placed the Fremont, must post-date this later time 
period. In this theory the time-depth for the pres- 
ence of Shoshone peoples in the north could not 
be any greater than 300 to 400 years ago. 

2. A Great Basin Source — Older Origins. 
A second theory, which pushes the origins for the 
Northern Shoshone somewhat deeper into the past, 
has been supported by several well-known archae- 
ologists but is actually premised upon advances 
in another discipline, the historical study of lan- 
guage development. To determine the relative age 
of the various branches of the Numic language 
stock, this approach borrows from the careful 
analysis of rates of change in small elements of a 
spoken language. This linguistic dating technique 
is called "glottochronology," and develops a rate 
of word loss for a language that has separated from 
its parent stock. Adapting this hypothesis to the 
Numic languages, linguists have proposed that 
their center or core lay in the southern Great Ba- 
sin along the California and Nevada border. From 
this heartland the various Numic-speaking peoples 
expanded outward into their present-day home- 

One principal group of these dispersing 
peoples spoke dialects of Shoshone proper, and 
their descendants now live on both the Fort Hall 
and Wind River Reservations (Miller 1986). From 
study of their changing vocabulary, their migra- 
tion is believed to have been launched around A.D. 
1000, and their constituent tribes are thought to 
have reached Idaho and Wyoming ca. A.D. 1300 
to A.D. 1400. In this popular theory, the presence 
of the Shoshone people in the north could not have 
exceeded 750 to 800 years. The approach is often 
termed the "Lamb hypothesis," after Sydney 
Lamb, the linguist who developed it (Lamb 1958). 

3. A Great Basin Source — Archaic Ori- 
gins. A third group of archaeologists believe that 
the foregoing ideas about the origin of the Shos- 
hone in Idaho and Wyoming are erroneous. They 
envision a much longer occupation for Numic- 
speaking groups in the north. Originally proposed 
by Earl Swanson and strongly supported by 

Wilfred Husted, their case is premised on find- 
ings from deeply-stratified caves and rockshelters 
that contain artifacts like those used by the Shos- 
hone in the Great Basin for thousands of years. 

Among the key archaeological sites which 
gave birth to this argument are Birch Creek Cave 
in Idaho (Swanson 1972), and Mummy Cave in 
Wyoming (Husted and Edgar n.d. ca. 1978). Both 
of these long-inhabited rockshelters yielded per- 
ishable artifacts such as basketry, arrow shafts and 
cord netting that are quite similar to those found 
in Great Basin caves. Included with more durable 
pieces of worked stone, such as net-sinkers and 
milling rocks, the entire assemblages strongly sug- 
gest a plant gathering and fishing style of life that 
was practiced in parts of the Great Basin for mil- 
lennia. Furthermore, these artifacts and associated 
types of projectile points were repeatedly found 
at continuous levels of the excavations. This bol- 
sters their case that there were few if any inter- 
ruptions in the long occupation by a relatively 
stable cultural group, and that therefore the 
Shoshoneans had made the north their home for 
8000 to 9000 years. 

4. A "Middle Range" Hypothesis. A fourth 
and more recent hypothesis for the antiquity of 
Shoshonean appearance in the north falls some- 
where between the extremes proposed by Wright- 
Butler and Swanson-Husted. This "middle range" 
assessment for the dates of Numic origins in the 
region stems from the work of Richard Holmer, 
who excavated a series of archaeological sites in 
the vicinity of the Fort Hall, Idaho (Holmer 1990; 
1994) in the late 1980s and early 90s. Holmer's 
advantage, of course, lay in having the three ex- 
isting hypotheses arrayed before him and testing 
them through a tried and true archaeological 
method — the "direct historical approach." 

This approach involves selecting an archaeo- 
logical site which is certain to contain evidence 
of human manufacture and use from the recent 
past, and which also was occupied by a specific 
cultural group. First, one excavates the uppermost, 
recent strata to reveal a diagnostic assemblage of 
artifacts for that particular group, such as the 
weight, size and shape of a stone projectile point, 
the hafting attributes of a chopping tool, the pres- 
ence of a root-digging implement, and/or the deco- 
rative characteristics of pottery. As the work of 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 


Figure 3.2. Lanceolate blades from the Wahmuza site in eastern Idaho (reproduced in Woods 
1987:147-148). These range in age from 300 to 3000 years before the present. 

peeling back layers of sediment, debris and cul- 
tural materials sinks into deeper strata, however, 
one discovers whether the new artifacts coming 
to light are the same as those above, whether they 
are appearing in markedly different shapes, or if 
altogether new tools are showing up which might 
be grouped in unfamiliar assemblages. If the arti- 
facts do remain relatively similar through succes- 
sive strata, the archaeologist has good reason to 
suspect that generations of the same cultural group 
must have occupied the site over time. 

The site which Holmer selected lay in the 
bottomlands of today's Fort Hall Reservation; he 
named it Wahmuza, from the Shoshone words 
wah '-muza, meaning "cedar point." The location 
was chosen advisedly, for it represented a 
Shoshonean occupation known to have been uti- 
lized in the historic period. As might have been 
predicted, the uppermost layers yielded glass trade 
beads, musket balls and other objects traded to 
the Shoshone inhabitants by Euro-Americans 
(Holmer 1990:45). As the excavations penetrated 
down through deeper levels, they found some 

variation in artifacts, but their recognizable con- 
sistency suggested the presence of a single tradi- 
tion over time. 

At the Wahmuza site, Holmer's crew discov- 
ered that one distinctive type of lanceolate-shaped 
spear appeared along with cooking hearths in the 
topmost levels, and also within each successive 
strata all the way down to the floor of the site. 
They identified this diagnostic artifact as a lance 
point used by Shoshone men on a short, thrusting 
spear (to be discussed in the Stone Tools section 
below). Whereas these so-called "Wahmuza" 
spear points near the surface were only a few hun- 
dred years old, those found in the lower levels were 
chipped more than 3,000 years ago. 

Trying to learn more about the geographical 
range of such distinctively Shoshonean artifacts, 
Holmer next excavated a site on the Middle Fork 
of the Salmon River known as Dagger Falls. His 
crew recovered 1 .400 projectile points. 2.000 com- 
plete and broken biface tools. 400 scraping tools. 
125 drills, 40 gravers, and approximately 3.300 
utilized flake tools (Holmer 1990:48). Once again 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

the characteristic Wahmuza spear points were 
found at all levels, along with more than 200 pot- 
sherds, crafted much like the ceramics at Wahmuza 
and representing a continuous time-span of 1,200 
years. Such evidence made Holmer confident that 
the same Shoshoneans who occupied the 
Wahmuza site were also living at the Dagger Falls 
site. Summarizing his results, Holmer wrote in 
words that seemed to echo what we have already 
heard concerning small, hunting and gathering 
band-based societies: 

What we have learned during this exer- 
cise is that the Northern Shoshone per- 
sisted in what is now eastern Idaho for 
millennia, perhaps as long as four thou- 
sand years. Their tremendous longevity is 
a direct product of their technological and 
social flexibility, being able to respond to 
rapidly changing and unpredictable situ- 
ations. For thousands of years they effec- 
tively adapted to changing environmental 
and social conditions without the loss of 
their cultural identity [Holmer 1990:57, 
emphasis ours]. 

To a degree Holmer's work backs up the ear- 
lier revelations from the more deeply stratified 
cave sites like Birch Creek, Idaho, and Mummy 
Cave, Wyoming. But whereas those excavations 
indicated Shoshoneans lived in the north for 8,000 
to 9,000 years, Holmer's dates only propose use 
of the region for 3,000 to 4,000 years by 
Shoshoneans. In time the continuing research of 
Holmer and others may add years to the longev- 
ity in the north, or support the belief that the origi- 
nal Shoshone migrations took place about 3,500 
years ago [Holmer 1990:453]. 

Other recent research, focused within a re- 
stricted area of Wyoming and associated with rock 
art that is unquestionably of Shoshonean origin, 
supports Holmer's case for a Shoshone antiquity 
of more than 3,000 years. This work involves the 
Dinwoody Style of petroglyphs, which have been 
subjected to new dating methods for rock art. 
These studies indicate that some of the Dinwoody 
panels were engraved more than 3000 years be- 
fore the present (Francis et al. 1994). Because not 
all researchers accept the validity of the experi- 
mental dating methods used to arrive at these age 
estimates, it is important to recognize there are 

also traditional radiocarbon dates for cultural de- 
posits in stratified levels that were partially cov- 
ering a Dinwoody style petroglyph at the Legend 
Rock site. These traditional dates verify the age 
of the Legend Rock petroglyph, for instance, at 
2,000 years ago (Walker and Francis 1989) and 
therefore offer considerable credibility to the ex- 
perimental dates for Dinwoody rock art a thou- 
sand years earlier. 

5. A Possible Reconciliation. Lastly, we 
would like to simply suggest yet another approach 
to the fascinating if intractable question of Sheep 
Eater origins. Although almost impossible to test 
without finer-grained markers for the identities of 
ethnic subgroups within the greater Shoshonean 
brotherhood, this approach might begin to recon- 
cile some of this wide temporal range between 
competing hypotheses for the Numic expansion. 
This is the supposition that there were ebbs and 
flows of Shoshonean migration, that overlapping 
of groups already known to have been highly 
mobile and singularly adaptive might have taken 
place, and that a non-aggressive succession of 
abandonments and reoccupations might have oc- 
curred in sites by peoples who were perhaps only 
ethnically distinct in non-material aspects of life 
such as their language dialects, belief-systems or 
forms of social organization. 

To some extent this idea has already been 
put forth by Aikens and Witherspoon (1984) who 
have suggested that in the distant past, expansion 
and contraction of Numic peoples out of and back 
into the Great Basin might have transpired on more 
than one occasion. In the accommodation put forth 
here, we believe the Sheep Eaters could have con- 
tinued to live in the north after an early expansion 
that took place by at least 3,500 years ago. Suc- 
cessive spreads of Numic speaking groups con- 
tinued to occur, but they were possibly 
reoccupations of the territory of their former breth- 
ren. The most recent of these overlays may have 
taken place about the time the horse was intro- 
duced, and would thus explain the theory of Wright 
and Butler. Another may have started ca. A.D. 
1000 when the linguistic data suggest it should 
have taken place. In this scenario, the Sheep Eat- 
ers who had been living in the mountains for mil- 
lennia would have been joined by linguistic rela- 
tives from the Great Basin from time to time. 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 1 15 

Similar schemes exist for most of the mi- 
grations that are known for other Indian groups in 
the American West. The Crow, for example, 
moved in at least two successive waves, the sec- 
ond several centuries after the first (Hoxie 1995). 
The Athapaskan speakers of the American South- 
west are also thought to have moved from north 
to south, through what is today Montana and Wyo- 
ming, at distinctly different time periods (Biddle 
quoted in Opler 1983). As our reconstructions of 
population movements throughout the world grow 
more sophisticated we are learning that the col- 
lective migrations are not necessarily fixed events. 
Instead, they are often "time transgressive events" 
that occur in a much more layered or haphazard 
fashion than the linguistic approach might lead us 
to believe. 

To summarize, we find the archaeological 
research by Richard Holmer and his colleagues at 
sites used by the northern Shoshone in Idaho to 
be persuasive. The area of central Montana and 
Wyoming appears to have been more dynamic, 
with Athapaskan tribes spending several centu- 
ries there before moving out in successive migra- 
tions toward the American Southwest. But it seems 
plausible that the people historically known as 
Sheep Eaters could have lived in the Yellowstone 
National Park region and the upper reaches of the 
Wind and Shoshone Rivers for at least 3,500 years. 

Diagnostic Features of Sheep 
Eater Material Culture 

Now we are ready to address the material 
world used by at least the Yellowstone-connected 
branch of Sheep Eaters in their mountain habitat. 
Throughout the glimpses of Sheep Eater lifeways 
which can be gleaned from ethnohistorical, ar- 
chaeological and ethnographic sources, certain 
characteristics appear again and again. As we pull 
away from an historical approach to look at cul- 
tural profile, the following discussion will fill out 
a "laundry list" of the most tangible markers of 
Sheep Eater identity. 

/. Dogs. During his last visit to Yellowstone 
National Park in 1994 Ake Hultkrantz was asked 
what in his opinion might differentiate Sheep Eat- 
ers from other tribal groups. Without hesitation 

he responded, "The way they packed their dogs." 
In their uneven, rocky setting, Hultkrantz ex- 
plained, a dog dragging travois was not as effi- 
cient as one wearing side packs. Those pack dogs 
had to be large and sturdy, and he remembered 
being told that Sheep Eater dogs were noted for 
"white spots across their chests." Supporting in- 
formation for the intimate working relationship 
between Sheep Eaters and their canine compan- 
ions comes from the ethnographer Demitri 
Shimkin, who was told at Wind River that the 
Sheep Eaters were well known for their dogs. 
From his key informant, Dick Washakie, son of 
the well-known chief of the Eastern Shoshone, he 
learned that the personal names for dogs often 
derived from their coloring (Shimkin 1937). But 
Shimkin was also told that the animals were used 
to both drag travois as well as to carry packs: 

The Mountain Sheep Eaters used dog 
transport both with parfleche-type packs 
and with the travois, in which a rawhide 
case or basket of willow was seated. Food 
and goods but not children were carried. 
The dog's harness, it may be noted, was 
primarily a cinch around the chest, secured 
by breast and hindquarters straps. There 
was no leash, the dog being directed en- 
tirely by voice [Shimkin 1986:320]. 

This close association between Sheep Eat- 
ers and their beasts of burden has a solid 
ethohistorical basis as well. When Osborne Rus- 
sell encountered his aforementioned group of 
Sheep Eaters (6 men, 7 women and 8 or 10 chil- 
dren) in the Lamar Valley in July 1 834. he counted 
about thirty dogs "on which they carried their 
skins, clothing, provisions etc on their hunting ex- 
cursions" (Russell 1965:26). Russell does not 
elaborate on their appearance but we are fortu- 
nate to have archaeological suggestion that the 
bond between Yellowstone National Park's Indi- 
ans and their dogs was intended to continue even 
into the afterlife. The only human burials reported 
in the park, both found near Fishing Bridge, had 
dogs interred with them (Willey and Key 1992). 
Workmen digging a sewer line on the Fishing 
Bridge peninsula of the lake near the outlet for 
the Yellowstone River first found one of the buri- 
als in August. 1941. It was an adult male. 161.76 
cm to 165 cm (5' 4" to 5' 5") in height and be- 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Figure 3.3. Though 
Assiniboine rather than 
Sheep Eater, this photo 
suggests how dogs were 
used by high Plains 
Indian hunters (From E.S. 
Curtis, The American 
Indian, folio 18, plate 630, 
reproduction courtesy of 
Buffalo Bill Historical 
Center, Cody, Wyoming). 

tween thirty-five and forty-five years of age 
(Willey and Key 1992:17). Two adult dogs were 
interred with him. Discovered in the Fishing 
Bridge Campground in July 1956, another burial 
contained a female, 152 cm to 155 cm (5' to 5' 1") 
in height and forty to fifty years of age (Willey 
and Key 1992:22). Two fragments of a single right 
rib of a human infant were recovered with the adult 
female skeleton. A single sub-adult dog accom- 
panied their burial. While there is no assurance 
these burials are the remains of Sheep Eaters, the 
dogs were certainly the same species as those kept 
by the Sheep Eaters. 

The dogs were short to medium stature, with 
blunt muzzles and relatively broad heads. Com- 

paring their jaws to those of a coyote and wolf, 
Condon learned that the dogs from the first in- 
ternment were shorter than a coyote and wolf, but 
their breadth was equal to that of a wolf (Condon 
1948). These dogs were studied by William Haag, 
an authority on American Indian dogs, who stated 
that their measurements fall within the range of a 
"group of Siberian-like dogs recovered from ar- 
chaeological sites on St. Lawrence Island and from 
parts of the Asiatic mainland" (Haag 1956:1-2). 
Haag went on to state that the dogs were smaller 
than the Alaskan Husky and considerably smaller 
than Plains Indian dogs which approximated and 
sometimes exceeded wolves in size. Haag did not 
have radiocarbon dates available, but based on the 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 


morphological characteristics of the dogs from the 
Yellowstone burials he suggested they likely dated 
about A.D. 1000 (Haag 1956:4). In a more recent 
study Cannon had these dog bones measured by 
Danny Walker at the University of Wyoming. 
Walker found the measurements and observations 
of Haag to be in line with his own. But he de- 
tected some grinding modification on the teeth, 
presumably inflicted by their owners to keep them 
from chewing through leather trappings (Kenneth 
Cannon letter to Larry Loendorf, September 2, 

2. Stone Tools. For many years artifact col- 
lectors and archaeologists in Wyoming and south- 
ern Montana have been able to single out a dis- 
tinctive chipped-stone tool, which is popularly 
called the "Shoshone knife." Shaped like a wil- 
low leaf, these artifacts measure from 7 cm to 12 
cm (3.5 inches to 5 inches) in length and from 3 
cm to 3.5 cm in width (1.25 inches to 1.5 inches) 
in width. They are long and narrow and are noted 
for intensive resharpening of their blades; ex- 
amples which demonstrate such extensive use are 
generally worn away into a pointed shape with a 
wide base. Frequently the resharpening occurred 
only along one side of the blade edge, much as an 
old skinning knife was sharpened along one side. 
Indeed, studies into the wear patterns on Shos- 
hone knives suggest that toward the end of their 
lives they likely served for drilling. But when they 
were in prime condition they were an all-purpose 
cutting, sawing, and piercing tool. 

Once again we have to thank Dick Washakie, 
Demitri Shimkin's key consultant, for enlighten- 
ing us about these important items in the Sheep 
Eater tool kit. In 1937 he told Shimkin that these 
knives were usually made of white flint but occa- 
sionally of bone. Examples recovered from ar- 
chaeological sites in Wyoming and Idaho are fre- 
quently chipped from obsidian as well (Larson and 
Kornfeld 1994:202-203; Holmer 1994:184). 
Washakie also described how the knives were 
wrapped with sinew around the basal end to pro- 
tect the user's hand, and he demonstrated how they 
were held in the palm of the right hand, with the 
point upward, between the thumb and four fin- 
gers. At meal times the knives were used by a 
server to cut cooked meat into large chunks which 
were laid upon rawhide plates. 

We have already been introduced to what 
was probably another important Sheep Eater arti- 
fact, the chipped stone Wahmuza Lanceolate point, 
which tipped the Shoshone lance. Lances are de- 
scribed by Julian Steward ( 1943:3 14) as a distinc- 
tively Shoshone tool, but they are best known from 
archaeological contexts. Relying on the research 
of Richard Holmer (1989, 1990; Holmer and 
Ringe 1986; summarized in Holmer 1994 and 
Torgler 1995), these well made stone points ex- 
hibit grinding to smooth the base and lower lat- 
eral edges. Presumably this prevented the stone 
from cutting through the ties of leather or plant 
fiber which fastened it to the haft. As Torgler notes: 

Many of the Wahmuza Lanceolates are 
missing blades that have snapped off per- 
pendicular to the length of the point near 
the point base. ...Typically Wahmuza 
Lanceolates are made of obsidian and have 
a distinctive form with parallel oblique 
flaking on the blades and contracting nar- 
row bases [Torgler 1995:87]. 

Fashioned for balance and durability, many 
of the surviving points show signs of retouching 
and sharpening to keep them in use, and probably 
represent items that were prized and safeguarded. 
They were used to tip lances or short-spears which 
stretched from 200 cm to 225 cm (5 feet to 7 feet) 
in length, that were made from hardwood and 

Figure 3.4. Shoshone knife found on the surface of 
Yellowstone National Park. Tip is broken but the tool 
displays the re-sharpening that characterizes these 
artifacts. Shown at approximately '/: actual size. 
Artifact #6527. 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Figure 3.5. Examples of possible Wahmuza lanceolates found on the surface of Yellowstone National 
Park. Shown at approximately 'h actual size. Left to right artifact #s 6626, 6630, 9494 and 7044. 

decorated with feathers (Shimkin 1937). These 
lances would have been efficient for defense in 
face to face encounters, but their most common 
use was most likely for dispatching game already 
gathered into traps (Dominick 1964:156). 

Although no Wahmuza-style Lanceolate 
points have been reported from excavated archaeo- 
logical sites inside Yellowstone National Park, 
Torgler (1995:91-92) notes that they appear in the 
Carbella site to the north near Gardiner, Montana, 
and also in a site near Jackson Lake to the south 
in Wyoming. However, many lanceolate projec- 
tile points have turned up in the park (Hoffman 
1961; Taylor et al. 1964) and in nearby areas 
(Haines 1964). 

The remaining inventory of chipped stone 
tools used by the Sheep Eaters included 
arrowpoints — usually of obsidian. Unlike the In- 
dians of surrounding areas, the Sheep Eaters seem 
to have been quite eclectic in their choice of stone 
point styles. In earlier phases they employed an 
array of such forms identified by archaeologists 
as Rose Spring as well as the points known as 
Elko-eared in Nevada, Utah and Idaho which are 
better suited for the short darts used with atlatls. 
Interestingly, these larger types continued to be 
used throughout later phases when the side- 
notched points, usually connected with an earlier 
era and similar to the Desert Side-notch varieties, 
served as arrowpoints (Torgler 1995:98; Holmer 

With such a diverse assembly of piercing and 

cutting tools we might wonder why the Sheep 
Eaters needed the larger points, and hypothesize 
that they and their Salmon Eater neighbors may 
have actually collected and curated old points, as 
they presumably did with their knives. While most 
tribes on the Plains and the Plateau are thought to 
have abandoned atlatls when the bow and arrow 
was developed, the Sheep Eaters could have kept 
theirs, using them with the short darts. Because 
atlatls offer such great penetrating power, they 
were considered more effective for hunting bear. 
An occasional ground stone atlatl weight does turn 
up in Yellowstone National Park archaeological 
sites, but unfortunately they originate from poorly 
identified surface collections and could represent 
almost any time period. 

Found in the most recent period of Sheep 
Eater occupation, however, a point type known 
as Cottonwood has been frequently associated 
with the Shoshoneans of Idaho and the Great Ba- 
sin. Some have suggested that these small trian- 
gular points were "preforms" for notched points 
rather than actual arrowpoints. But a recent mi- 
croscopic study of unwashed Cottonwood points 
in Idaho revealed sinew strips wrapped around the 
base, indicating they were clearly hafted and used 
on arrows. Some of the sinew strips were also 
stained with red ocher, suggesting the arrows may 
have been identified as to their owners (Torgler 

Other chipped-stone artifacts used by the 
Sheep Eaters include drills for putting holes in 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 


wood and bone, and pointed stone slivers that 
served as sewing awls. But the usually typical and 
abundant scrapers, known as "plano-convex" 
scrapers by archaeologists and "turtle-backs" by 
many artifact collectors, are strangely lacking. The 
absence of these tools at Mummy Cave was im- 
mediately recognized by its archaeologists, and 
although they do appear in Yellowstone National 
Park, they are not abundant. Their primary pur- 
pose was to remove fat and tissue from hides. 
When hafted in a bent antler handle, these scrap- 
ers were used as a pull tool; but chipped with an 
angular front edge and stuck into a straight antler 
handle they functioned as a push tool. Since the 
Sheep Eaters obviously had a need for such tools 
to clean hides, the absence of these scrapers sug- 
gests that they accomplished the task with obsid- 
ian flakes, using spalls with no defined pattern. 
Captain Jones did note such a tool in use by the 
Shoshone in 1873, and possibly it was being em- 
ployed in lieu of the turtle-back scrapers more 
commonly found on the Plains: 

The Shoshones, though mostly provided 
with tools of iron and steel of approved 
patterns, are still to be seen employing, as 
a scraper in the dressing of skins, a mere 
"teshoa," consisting of a small worn 
howlder, thinner at one end, split through 
the middle in such a manner as to furnish 
a rough cutting-edge at one side. There 
seems to be a considerable advantage in 
this over any form of knife or other tool 
which has yet reached them from without, 
and it is probable that it will be retained 
so long as their present method of prepar- 
ing hides is in vogue [Jones 1873:261]. 

3. Steatite. Perhaps no class of artifacts were 
more unique to Sheep Eater culture than the pots 
and bowls which they carved out of the soft stone 
known popularly as "soapstone," "talc" or "pip- 
estone," also known as steatite. Although there 
are approximately twenty minerals that fall under 
this designation, steatite is a common term for a 
white to green metamorphic rock that is soft 
enough to be scratched with a finger nail (Adams 
1992:20). The mineral is formed through pressure 
and heat under the oceans and then in the uplift- 
ing of mountains and subsequent erosion, it is 
exposed in Precambrian metamorphic rocks in the 

Yellowstone National Park region. Because ste- 
atite not only heats quickly but also retains its heat 
extremely well, in recent years it has been ex- 
ploited for a half dozen different products associ- 
ated with energy conservation, such as stoves and 
baking griddles. In an experimental effort to learn 
more about the function of Sheep Eater steatite 
cooking pots, a graduate student from the Uni- 
versity of Wyoming named Richard Adams 
(1992:152-153) made such a pot and followed 
through by cooking in it. From a chunk of steatite 
obtained from Wyoming it took Adams about three 
and one half hours to hollow out a vessel that held 
618 cc. or somewhat less than a quart of liquid. 
Placing the pot in some red-hot coals he was able 
to boil water in eight minutes (Adams 1992: 153- 
154), and the water continued churning for four 
minutes after removing it from the fire. It took 
only twice that long to heat and cook a double 
handful of cubed venison (Adams 1992: 153-154). 
This unusual and effective cooking ware 
quickly caught the attention of early trappers and 
explorers. For example, Francis Antoine Larocque. 
the French trapper and trader and the first Euro- 
American to leave a journal with details about the 
Yellowstone region in 1805, describes a 
Shoshonean stone pot: 

I traded eight Beavers with the Snake In- 
dians in whose possession I saw a kettle 
or Pot hewn out of solid stone. It was about 
1 *' thick and contained 6 or 8 quarts 
[Wood and Thiessen 1985:185]. 

Lewis and Clark were also struck by the pres- 
ence of these stone containers among the Lemhi 

...their culinary utensils exclusive of the 
brass kettle before mentioned consist of 
pots in the form of a jar made either of 
earth, or of a soft white stone which be- 
comes black and very hard by burning, and 
is found in the hills near the three forks of 
the Missouri between Madison's and 
Gallitin's rivers [Thwaites 1904-5:19]. 

Almost certainly this "soft white stone" 
which hardens and darkens under fire is steatite. 
The Lewis and Clark identification of a well- 
known source for the material near Dillon. Mon- 
tana — also identified as the "green pipestone" 
river by Jim Bridger on a map he made in 1 85 1 — 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

was probably an important source of steatite for 
the Sheep Eaters. Several other sources west and 
northwest of the park have recently been described 

In Wyoming, however, research on steatite 
sources is further along, and upwards of twenty 
quarries have been identified (Frison 1982; Adams 
1992). While none are known in Yellowstone 
National Park, a dozen or so lie within a seventy- 
mile radius of the park. Numerous smaller quar- 
ries or secondary deposits of steatite, sometimes 
only a few meters across, are found in western 
Wyoming (Adams 1992:33). Dick Washakie told 
Shimkin (1937 interview) that the pots he knew 
about were made from a stone that was obtained 
in the mountains, two days travel to the west of 
his Wind River Shoshone Reservation. Accord- 
ing to Adams, place names in the Wind River 
Mountains immediately south of Yellowstone 
National Park "read like a who's who of steatite: 
Soapstone Lake, Soapstone Basin, Pipestone Lake, 
Dish Lake, Soapstone Creek" (Adams 1992:33). 

Through direct mining or local trade, it is 
obvious that steatite was readily available to Sheep 
Eaters, and the historical record testifies to their 
taking full advantage of it. Nathaniel Wyeth 
(Schoolcraft 1851:211) described "a stone pot, 
holding about two quarts" among the Indians along 
the Snake River in Idaho. Osborne Russell 
(1965:26) mentions the "Small stone pot" in use 
by the Sheep Eaters he encountered in 1835 in the 
Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park. In 
addition he describes a pot which he found while 
exploring on the headwaters of the Shoshone River 
to the northeast of Yellowstone Lake: 

Near the foot of this defile we found a 
stone jar which would contain 3 gallons 
neatly cut from a piece of granite well 
shaped and smooth [Russell 1965:23]. 

Since granite can easily resemble steatite, 
Russell is probably mistaken about the material, 
but his estimation of its volume suggests an un- 
usually large size for these Sheep Eater vessels. 
As noted above, Larocque saw Snake Indians us- 
ing one pot that held 1 .5 to 2 gallons. Unfortu- 
nately we find none of these large pots in museum 
collections today. Instead, the average steatite pot 
holds about a 1 ,000 to 2,000 cubic centimeters or 

about one to two quarts (Adams 1992:99). 

Because steatite is resistant to disintegration 
and decay, vessels shaped from it preserve better 
than those fashioned from fired clay. What might 
be called the "classic" form of Sheep Eater ste- 
atite pot is often described as looking like the stan- 
dard flower pot. There is the distinguishing flat- 
bottom, straight to outward flaring sides, and 
rounded lips on undecorated rims. Some may have 
slightly flanged bases, and none feature any other 
decoration. These classic pots stand ten to twelve 
inches in height and frequently have more oval 
than round shapes that measure from seven inches 
to eleven inches across. After a statistical study of 
several dozen steatite vessels, Adams states: 
"Many types of vessels have been found in Wyo- 
ming, but the above statistics support the idea of 
a 'standard' flowerpot shape (1992:108)." While 
our information on Sheep Eater aesthetics is prac- 
tically nonexistent, it may be worth mentioning 
that steatite consolidates when heated to become 
almost porcelain hard and can acquire a shiny lus- 
ter. Add smoke or soot from fires onto the exter- 
nal surfaces of these pots and their dark, burnished 
patina becomes quite attractive. 

The concentration of this unique ware in and 
around Yellowstone National Park seems to iden- 
tify them as an index of Sheep Eater ethnicity. 
While steatite pots are found throughout the north- 
western Plains they are most concentrated in the 
mountainous region of western Wyoming. 
Marceau (quoted in Adams 1992:91) suggests that 
steatite vessels are tightly clustered within sixty 
miles of Two Ocean Pass. Adams is critical of this 
statistic because Marceau used faulty reasoning 
in his inquiry. But regardless of whether his study 
is flawed or not, there is an obvious concentration 
of steatite vessels in northwestern Wyoming, a 
distribution which overlaps the traditional terri- 
tory of the Sheep Eaters. Frison (1982:285) even 
suggests that the area of sheep hunting traps and 
steatite vessels is comparable. The discovery of 
at least three steatite pots in the past three years in 
the Wind River Mountains, in the center of the 
largest concentration of sheep hunting traps, un- 
derscores his assumption. 

A number of these vessels have wound up 
in museums where they can be inspected close 
up. Three steatite pots were collected by Superin- 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 


tendent Philetus Norris in Yellowstone National 
Park and sent to the National Museum where they 
are currently curated (Norris 1881b:32-34). Of the 
several "classic" examples of stoneware reported 
by Wedel (1954:407) from Yellowstone National 
Park or near it, one was collected at Mammoth by 
Charles Hunter in 1 897 and another was found in 
the Devil's Slide area, immediately north of the 
park. In height these pots measure 19.7 cm (7.8 
inches) and 23 cm (9. 1 inches), respectively (Fehyl 

As for the park's own collections at Mam- 
moth Hot Springs, there are five steatite vessels 
and two vessel fragments that were found in or 
adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. The small- 
est has a pedestal base while another features a 
rawhide strap around the exterior perimeter, but 
since both were on display it was not possible to 
measure them. Both are well-made with what ap- 
pear to be scoring from metal files or chisels. Of 
the pots in storage, one is roughly formed with 
stone tool marks. It measures about 14.8 cm (5.8 
inches) across its interior diameter and 1 cm (3.9 
inches) in outside height. Another more finished 
pot measures 14. 1 cm (5.6 inches) across its inside 
diameter and 8.8 cm (3.5 inches) in outside height. 
The other pieces are broken and although one has 
been reused, measurements were not taken. 

To the south of the park, Adams reports 
eleven steatite pots, several in the "flowerpot" 
category, that were found near Jackson Lake and 
now are curated in the Jackson Hole Museum. The 
majority of the half-dozen new vessels which have 
been turning up to the southeast of the park, in the 
Dubois, Wyoming region, where bighorn sheep 
traps are also abundant, are within the range size 
that hold one to two quarts. 

Another group of steatite containers might 
be more correctly identified as "cups." At least 
one of these from Yellowstone National Park had 
a handle much like a modern coffee mug, while 
others resemble small bowls. One very small ste- 
atite cup was found by an assistant ranger on 
United States Forest Service land near Cutler Lake 
to the north of the park in 1963 and reported to 
Aubrey Haines. It measured 2 to 27s inches high 
by 27k to 27x inches in diameter with a bottom di- 
ameter of 1 7s inches. The outer form was rounded 
around the bottom while it was flat inside. Small 

Figure 3.6. Yellowstone National Park historian 
Aubrey Haines, on the left, inspecting a steatite bowl 
with Lemuel Garrison, Yellowstone National Park 
superintendent. Photograph 1961 (Photo courtesy of 
Yellowstone National Park Archives, Catalog UYELL 

incised lines were found around the perimeter of 
the finely made pot. 

As to this variability in size for steatite ves- 
sels there are at least three explanations. For one 
thing, we believe that seams or chunks of large 
steatite are not as easy to obtain as smaller ones, 
and this could be reflected in the size of the pots. 
A second reason may be that blanks for smaller 
pots were salvaged from the bases of larger bro- 
ken vessels. But thirdly, size differences might also 
relate to function. From Moses Tassitie, a Plains 
Shoshone, Shimkin learned that glue was mixed 
in stone pots (1937:6). Especially important to the 
manufacture of sheep horn bows, it is conceiv- 
able that the smaller pots were used for heating 
and preparing their sticky concoctions of boiled 
hide scrapings. 

Apparently the manufacture of steatite ves- 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

sels was easier if one could work directly in the 
quarry outcrop. This technique, used throughout 
the world in making stone pots, conveniently an- 
chors the pot like a vise in the parent rock while it 
is taking form (Ball 1941:47). Blank areas in ste- 
atite outcrops reveal where pots have been par- 
tially manufactured and then cut loose (Schoen 
and Vlcek 1991 ), while at other quarry sites there 
are partially completed vessels that apparently 
broke during the carving process (Frison 

Through these latter fragments George 
Frison was able to reconstruct just how steatite 
vessels were shaped and made. At one quarry site, 
he recovered twenty-eight chopper/chopping tools 
made of quartzite, granite, and conglomerate. The 
assemblage also included pick-like and cleaver- 
like tools of various sizes, that seemed to have 
been unifacially prepared with a flat side to ac- 
commodate the need to fit the side wall of the pot. 
Frison (1982:278) believes these tools were used 
like a chisel and if so their illustration (Frison 
1982:278; fig. 4) suggests they would have dulled 
easily. This should not be surprising because in- 
dividuals who have made steatite pots with metal 
tools complain about the same problem (Adams 

According to Frison (1982:279), removing 
the pot from the natural rock was accomplished 
by one of two ways. One method was to begin 
near the center and gouge a starter hole that in- 
creased in size until the interior was excavated. 
Another way was to drive a pick or chisel around 
the inner perimeter and remove large chunks of 
the steatite as the pot insides are excavated. Frison 
also discovered scraping tools that were appar- 
ently used to remove the larger scars from both 
the exterior and interior of the pots. Although 
grinding tools were not recovered, Frison believed 
they might have helped to smoothen the pot walls. 

Since very few steatite vessels have been re- 
covered from excavated contexts their time-depth 
is poorly documented. Frison (1982:284) suggests 
they are most common in the historic and 
protohistoric periods, while Adams (1992:114) 
notes the telltale steel hatchet and iron tool marks 
on vessels which firmly identify them within those 
time periods. Underscoring the probable recency 
of these vessels is also the fact that our sole radio- 

carbon date, taken from sooty residue on the in- 
side of one steatite vessel, is A.D. 1848 (Adams 

At the same time it should be kept in mind 
that any residue inside the pot only dates its last 
use, and not the moments of its original manufac- 
ture. There is some evidence indicating that these 
pots were prized heirlooms among the Sheep Eat- 
ers and other Shoshone groups, to be passed on 
from generation to generation: 

The pots were inherited by the daughter 
of the family, if there were no daughter a 
son might get one. They were family prop- 
erty. They were never traded [Shimkin 
1937; Dick Washakie interview]. 

This suggests that as long as the pots re- 
mained whole, they would have been used for 
many years, which might also be an explanation 
for why they are not commonly recovered in pre- 
historic contexts. While Adams (1992:120) has 
suggested that the pots may have been stashed at 
campsites, to be used by any traveler who fre- 
quented the site, this seems doubtful, given their 
personal value as suggested by Dick Washakie. 
What seems more likely is that these pots, espe- 
cially the classic ones that could hold one to two 
quarts, were treasured and used by families over 
many years. 

Other important objects were also made of 
steatite. In the Dubois Museum is a "platter" with 
a rectangular outline and sightly raised lip around 
its perimeter which was recently found in the Wind 
River region, part of an inventory of griddle-like 
creations fashioned from steatite (Adams 
1992: 145-147). Others examples are round in out- 
line with similar raised perimeters. We have no 
direct evidence as to how these flat platters were 
used, although they would have served well for 
baking flat camas cakes. 

We also find steatite beads of various shapes 
and sizes. One of these stone beads was recov- 
ered at the Split Rock site, a pit house in south- 
western Wyoming, in feature fill that was dated at 
5500 B.P. (Eakin et al. 1997). Beads have also 
been found in precontact contexts; at Mummy 
Cave, for instance, there were steatite beads and 
pendants dated at A.D. 734 (Husted and Edgar n.d. 
ca. 1978:204-205). Other artifacts that indicate a 
definite use of steatite in prehistoric contexts in- 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 123 

Figure 3. 7. Collection of 

steatite bowls in Sheep 

Eater country; Wind 

River Mountains. 

Photograph 1995 

(Collection of Dubois 

Museum, Dubois, 



i -'- 

- '.' 

elude atlatl weights (Adams 1992:143-144). It is 
worth noting that while these artifacts are scat- 
tered across the state, only in the greater Yellow- 
stone region do we find such a concentration of 
stone pots. 

One last category of steatite artifacts is the 
perhaps the most intriguing. These are the tubular 
pipes and sucking tubes which are carefully cored 
and smoothed from the workable stone. For Rocky 
Mountain archaeologists, these cultural items are 
so prominent among the Shoshone that they have 
become a diagnostic artifact for archaeological 
assemblages (Malouf 1968:7). Some may have 
been smoked, but in a surprising recent analysis 
of forty tubular steatite tubes in Wyoming, none 
betrayed evidence of tobacco use (Adams 1992). 
This suggests they were more commonly used for 
sucking or blowing functions, quite possibly in 
rituals of healing, divination or sorcery. In their 
report on a cache of tubular pipes from Coal Draw, 
George Frison and Zola Van Norman (1993) re- 
ported that they were uncovered directly in front 
of a large petroglyph that depicts an anthropomor- 
phic figure holding a bow. Eight pipes are repre- 
sented in the cache, one with an incised petroglyph 
of a goose or crane-like water bird carved into it, 
which almost certainly represented the supernatu- 
ral tool kit of a Shoshone shaman. 

The Sheep Eaters believed in several cat- 
egories of ghosts and spirits that lived both on 
the land and in the water. These spirits (especially 
the pan dzoavits) are known to carry a bow and 
invisible arrows that they shoot into their victims 
(Shimkin 1986:325; Hultkrantz 1987:48). It is 
certainly conceivable that Sheep Eater shamans 
used their stone sucking tubes to remove the in- 
visible missiles that were often considered to be 
the cause of human ailments. 

4. Obsidian. Another important mineral to 
the Sheep Eaters was found in abundance in the 
heart of Yellowstone National Park. This is the 
volcanic glass known as obsidian, whose most 
famous source is the site popularly known as Ob- 
sidian Cliff. 

It was a Sheep Eater narrator named Rupert 
Weeks who provided a Shoshone story for the ori- 
gin of obsidian arrowheads. His narrative opens 
with a smoking contest between EZhupa. or Coy- 
ote and Beya Ish, the Wolf. Initially Wolf con- 
tinually loses a number of rounds at the pipe, hav- 
ing passed out from the heavy smoking and be- 
ing revived by Coyote. In this particular story the 
multifaceted, ambivalent character of Coyote is 
portrayed in his customary role as culture-giver, 
on the alert for any tips that will assist human 
beings and ready to put his cunning at their ser- 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

vice. As we will see in the section on Sheep Eater 
religion, the "whirlwind" in the following story is 
very likely a malevolent spirit of the dead, or a 

In the tepee, the coyote saw black-colored 
objects lying behind the wolf, who had 
been fashioning arrowheads. 

Said E Zhupa, the coyote, "My cousin, 
who has lost the smoking contest very no- 
bly, let us try another. We will see who 
can make the most arrows from your ob- 
sidian before the whirlwind comes 

E Zhupa, the coyote, had no knowledge 
of how to make arrowheads; he wanted to 
see the wolf make them so that he could 
learn the technique. The wolf agreed to this 
contest, for he was ashamed of his defeat 
in the smoking contest. 

He worked feverishly, piling arrowheads 
beside him in many heaps. The cunning E 
Zhupa, the coyote, made a great show of 
working, but all the time he was watching 
the wolf out of the corners of his eyes. As 
soon as he was sure he knew the art of 
making arrowheads, he wished for a whirl- 
wind. The wind blew up the powder from 
the chipped obsidian that was piled above 
the wolf's knee, causing him momentary 
blindness. Putting on the wings he had 
borrowed from the eagle, Beya Qee Na, 
the coyote flew back to the home of his 
nephews, the Shoshones, and taught them 
the fine art of making arrowheads from 
obsidian [Weeks 1981:27]. 

In this story we have a reflection of a broader 
theme in American Indian oral tradition, in which 
key elements of human culture, such as the use of 
fire or the knowledge of chipping stone, must be 
wrested from their former ownership by a world 
of supernatural beings. The narrative also features 
a prototype for the "shamanic contest," which sees 
Wolf's power to work stone pitted against 
Coyote's power to control the world of ghosts, 
represented by the whirlwind — possibly his own 
supernatural helper or guardian — who performs 
at his command. Shoshone individuals with pow- 
erful spirit helpers would sometimes compete in 

displays of supernatural power. 

The story also makes a curious connection 
between obsidian and eyesight. However, one of 
our consultants inverted this link between them. 
Within a general discussion on the medicinal use 
of obsidian with several consultants from both the 
Wind River and Fort Hall Reservations, we learned 
that a common use of razor-sharp obsidian chips 
was in bleeding to release blood pressure when a 
person has a bad headache. But one Sheep Eater 
woman, born in a tipi on the old Ross Fork Agency 
before it was moved to Fort Hall, remembered the 
use by her mother of finely ground obsidian mixed 
with rye grass to treat the onset of blindness from 

Earlier ethnographers also obtained hints of 
the tie between obsidian and the spirit world. As 
described above, both Hultkrantz (1987:49) and 
Shimkin (1986:325) learned about the class of 
spirits known as pan dzoavits. Among them is a 
very dangerous, solitary spirit known as "water 
ghost woman" (pa:waaip). The Shoshone told 
Shimkin that they always know she is around by 
obsidian flakes found on the ground which repre- 
sent broken fragments of her body (Shimkin 

Shoshone consultants to this project added 
that the Sheep Eaters especially prized obsidian 
for their arrowpoints because it was sharp and it 
was easier to chip and shape "in the way they 
wanted it." When queried about Obsidian Cliff one 
Sheep Eater descendant replied: 

Just like when you go there to get some of 
the obsidian then its like a sacrifice, you 
leave something there, an offering when 
you get it. It also would be considered a 
sacred site. Because their prayers were left 
there with whatever they left there. They 
would offer, like we say now, we give them 
tobacco, or we leave something there for 
the spirits to give a blessing for taking it 
[PK Interview February 4, 1996). 

The respondent went on to say that obsidian 
could not be obtained on the Wind River Reser- 
vation. Another consultant told us that obsidian 
scrapers were prized for cleaning hides, and from 
her description, it seemed that she was referring 
to the Shoshone split-cobble scraping tools (Jones 
1875:261). The significance of obsidian was also 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 125 

noted by Polly Shoyo, a consultant for Demitri 
Shimkin in 1937 who told him about the drudg- 
ery of getting wood: 

After breakfast, the woman would take a 
rawhide rope , and go to the brush to get 
wood. She'd pick up branches, or use an 
obsidian ax to hack them. It was very pain- 
ful work [Shimkin 1947b:318]. 

Yet another respondent to this project, a 
great-granddaughter of Togwotee, who once had 
accompanied him by stagecoach to Yellowstone 
National Park, recognized the importance of the 
black obsidian for arrow points. She also updated 
the spiritual role of the stone to contemporary 
Shoshoneans by revealing that red obsidian from 
Yellowstone National Park was used "by peyote 
people in making the head of water birds," a pri- 
mary symbol associated with the Native Ameri- 
can Church. 

Largely due to the dramatic volcanic abut- 
ment of Obsidian Cliff, this mineral has enjoyed 
high visibility in the geological and cultural his- 
tory of the park. "There is enough obsidian in sight 
in the park region to cover the whole of New En- 
gland, one foot in depth," claimed Orrin and 
Lorraine Bonney (1970:485). Although this may 
be a bit of an overstatement, it is certain that the 
Yellowstone National Park region contains abun- 
dant obsidian and Obsidian Cliff is without ques- 
tion the best known archaeological resource in the 

Since the earliest explorations of Yellow- 
stone National Park, Obsidian Cliff was carefully 
examined by geologists who were particularly 
interested in its mineral formation and any rela- 
tionship to the park's volcanoes. They were en- 
couraged by the work of John Wesley Powell, 
founding father of the Bureau of American Ethnol- 
ogy and culture hero to 19th century American schol- 
ars and adventurers. Any scientists accompany- 
ing early expeditions to Yellowstone National Park 
would probably have been familiar with Powell's 
description of chipping an obsidian stone tool: 

The obsidian or other stone of which the 
implement is to be made is first selected 
by breaking up larger masses of the rock 
and choosing those which exhibit the frac- 
ture desired and which are free of flaws; 

then these pieces are baked or steamed, 
perhaps I might say annealed, by placing 
them in damp earth covered with a brisk 
fire for twenty-four hours, then with sharp 
blows they are still further broken into 
flakes approximating the shape and size 
desired. For the more complete fashion- 
ing of the implement a tool of horn, usu- 
ally of the mountain sheep, but sometimes 
of the deer or antelope, is used. The flake 
of stone is held in one hand, placed on a 
little cushion made of untanned skin of 
some animal, to protect the hand from the 
flakes which are to be chipped off, and 
with a sudden pressure of the bone-tool 
the proper shape is given. They acquire 
great skill in this, and the art seems to be 
confined to but few persons, who manu- 
facture them and exchange them for other 
articles [Powell 1875:27-28]. 

The famous geologist and artist, W.H. 
Holmes, was well versed in Indian stone tool 
manufacture and paid an early visit to Obsidian 
Cliff. Noting its importance for stone tools 
(Holmes 1 879), Holmes went on to describe Yel- 
lowstone National Park obsidian in the Handbook 
of American Indians (1910), and later wrote what 
many still consider an indispensable study on na- 
tive toolmaking (1919). Geologists and chroniclers 
accompanying other early expeditions also vis- 
ited and reported on Obsidian Cliff (Hayden 1 883; 
Iddings 1 888). Captain W. A. Jones, for example, 
described artifacts he and his group found along 
their travel route in 1873, the abundant obsidian 
near Obsidian Cliff, and an arrowpoint still at- 
tached to its shaft that was discovered by one of 
his men (Jones 1875:262). Since these visits oc- 
curred when America's scientific community was 
just accepting the fact that stone tools represented 
ancient cultures, a central discussion in the reports 
concerned this distinction between artifacts made 
by Indians and those items that were naturally 

Around the same period Superintendent 
Philetus Norris ordered his road-builders to keep 
a ready eye out for Indian artifacts, which he then 
packaged and shipped to Washington's 
Smithsonian Institution. Norris indicates that he 
found "Obsidian Mountain" in 1878. and he re- 
ports that in the following year: 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

I . . .traced the mountain of obsidian or vol- 
canic glass from where I discovered it last 
year, at Beaver Lake, to a branch of the 
Gibbon, below Lake of the Woods, a dis- 
tance of some eight miles ...a vast weapon 
and implement quarry for the ancient her- 
mit Sheepeaters [Norris 1880a: 16]. 

Norris included specimens collected at Ob- 
sidian Cliff in the materials he dispatched to the 
Smithsonian in 1879 (Norris 1880a:7), and be- 
lieved that this source produced obsidian which 
was "unrivaled in quantity, beauty, and variety of 
color" (Norris 1881a: 15). Smaller fragments of 
obsidian found along the shores of Yellowstone 
Lake and Shoshone Lake were said by Norris to 
"sparkle like diamonds." One of Norris' astute ob- 
servations, which was frequently overlooked in 
subsequent years by investigators into the distri- 
bution of obsidian, concerned other obsidian 
sources in Yellowstone National Park. Norris 
found that: 

. . .large deposits of black and mottled ob- 
sidian at the Cascade or Crystal Falls, near 
the Falls of the Yellowstone, on the Con- 
tinental Divide near Shoshone Lake, at the 
Lookout Cliffs, upon the new road over 
the Madison Plateau, and at other locali- 
ties [Norris 188 la: 15]. 

Several early tourist accounts of their trips 
to Yellowstone National Park include observations 
on Obsidian Cliff and obsidian in the park (Gerrish 
1887:196; Synge 1892:120; Dudley 1886:47; 
Kipling 1920:79). Usually these are simple de- 
scriptions and observations about the obsidian and 
its use for artifacts. Nonetheless, coupled with 
scientific accounts these popular stories led to the 
false impression that all the obsidian in North 
America, except on the West Coast, must have 
come from Yellowstone National Park. And as 
ably summarized by Davis et al. (1995:6-7), from 
the turn of the century until the 1960s, archaeo- 
logical examples from the Ohio mound builders 
to the Alberta buffalo hunters were indeed linked 
in the literature to Yellowstone National Park 
through the obsidian trade. 

Concentrating on Yellowstone National Park 
as a source for all this obsidian, however, put ar- 
chaeologists and historians in a bind. On the one 
hand, there was considerable evidence that Yel- 

lowstone National Park obsidian was scattered 
about the country. On the other, they continued to 
believe that most Indians, with the exception of 
the "reclusive" and "isolated" Sheep Eaters, were 
supposed to have avoided Yellowstone. How then 
could this obsidian have been obtained? If Indi- 
ans held the Yellowstone region in taboo and were 
so terrified of its geysers or were incapable of tra- 
versing the high mountain passes, who quarried 
and transported all those rocks? One solution was 
to suggest: 

...the material was merely quarried and 
roughly formed by the Sheepeaters who 
traded it in that condition with the sur- 
rounding tribes and by them taken away 
to be fashioned into final shape [Skinner 

Because so few actual arrow heads or formed 
tools were found at Obsidian Cliff, this explana- 
tion had considerable support. While we have little 
evidence that Sheep Eaters controlled the Obsid- 
ian Cliff source area, the common method of col- 
lecting raw stone material is to quarry it, rough 
out blanks or preforms, and then transport them 
to other locations for the finishing work (Loendorf 
et al. 1984). Sometimes these locations are close 
by, but preforms are also carried hundreds of miles 
before being reduced to patterned tools. 

Another explanation for how obsidian was 
obtained from Yellowstone National Park is the 
suggestion that Obsidian Cliff was "neutral 
ground" where brave men went, not to dally or 
hunt, but simply to get the obsidian they needed 
for their survival. In this view obsidian was seen 
as so important that its major quarry in the park 
constituted a sort of safe zone where, "in timo- 
rous truce [Sioux, Blackfeet, Crow and Bannock] 
made stores of arrowheads from the mountain of 
black obsidian which looms above the river near 
its golden gate" (Raftery 1943 [1907]: 102, empha- 
sis ours), or as another writer phrased it more sim- 
ply, where tribes "resorted to temporary peace to 
make arrow-heads and stone axes" (Skinner 
1926:190). What is interesting about this piece of 
unsubstantiated geographical folklore is that it is 
almost the exact reverse of the "geyser taboo" idea, 
suggesting a kind of approach-the-rocks but avoid- 
the-waters contradiction. Whereas Indians are pre- 
sumed to have given the forbidden park a wide 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 127 

Figure 3.8. Obsidian 

Cliff, Yellowstone 

National Park. 

Photograph 1994 

(author photo). 

berth because of their horror of its "demon- 
haunted fastnesses" (Raftery 1943 [1907]: 102), 
here the region is said to have been protected by a 
kind of inter-tribal covenant as Indians were drawn 
to the park for its obsidian. Possibly originating 
from Jim Bridger (Alter 1 925:38 1 ), this notion was 
disseminated among tourists in early editions of 
the Haynes guidebooks to Yellowstone National 
Park, which maintained that "Obsidian Cliff was 
'neutral ground' to all the Rocky Mountain Indi- 
ans and undoubtedly as sacred to the various hos- 
tile tribes as the famed Pipestone country of Min- 
nesota" (Guptill 1890:34). Before continuing this 
discussion, it should be noted that the primary use 
of catlinite, found at Minnesota's Pipestone Na- 
tional Monument, was to make sacred pipes while 
obsidian primarily went into utilitarian objects. To 
be sure, catlinite was sometimes used for non-cer- 
emonial objects and obsidian was used to manu- 
facture magnificent ritual bifaces in Ohio, Cali- 
fornia and elsewhere. But making religious ob- 
jects from obsidian by Indians who lived in the 
region surrounding the park was not the norm. 

As for substantiating this general "neutral 
ground" hypothesis, there are other Plains Indian 
geographical contexts where the idea has been 
proposed. But as with the Obsidian Cliff case, too 
little hard data usually accompanies the assertion. 

In 1978 Canadian ethnohistorians attempted to 
assess contentions that the Cypress Hills, over- 
lapping the provinces of southern Saskatchewan 
and Alberta, was a "neutral ground" or "no-man's 
land" which different tribes all agreed to avoid so 
as to protect its wild game. Finding no ethnogra- 
phy to support the idea, the researchers suggested 
that instead the Cypress Hills, a hunting grounds 
positioned between hostile tribes, were more aptly 
termed "any-man's-land," since it was generally 
understood among mutually-hostile hunting tribes 
that you first sought game in your own safe area 
which you protected against all comers, and only 
ventured out of it when you were willing to pay 
the price of constant vigilance and possible war- 
fare (Bonninichsen and Baldwin 1978:35-39). 
Liljeblad heard of a similar sort of region in south- 
central Montana (Liljeblad 1957:63-65) which lay 
unclaimed between Crow and Blackfeet territo- 
ries. Called by the Shoshones kutsunambihi, or 
"the buffalo heart." it was said to serve much the 
same game park function imputed to the Cypress 
Hills, with the important difference being that over 
half-a-dozen tribes hunted here: "the effect was 
that the region was somewhat neutral." writes 
Janetski (1987:60). Yet another supposed neutral 
ground, described as a multi-tribal "Peace Valley," 
supposedly lay to the west of the park and attracted 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

some of its native residents. As Corless writes: 

The Valley where the Boise, Ohyhee, 
Malheur, Payette, and Weiser rivers joined 
the Snake became a great "Peace Valley" 
in the Indian world. A legendary fair, or 
salmon festival, was a yearly intertribal 
gathering, or rendezvous, held in the sum- 
mer. It would last for a month or more. 
Different tribes and bands [Bannock, Nez 
Perce, Umatilla, Cayuse, Cheyenne, 
Arapaho, Sheep Eater, Northern Paiute] 
from throughout the West would meet 
without fear in order to trade or make trea- 
ties and to celebrate the beginning of the 
fishing [Corless 1990:14]. 

For the Sweet Grass Hills of north-central 
Montana, the "neutral ground" claim has taken 
on a more explicitly spiritual, pacifistic cast. 
"Many of the tribes who used the Sweet Grass 
Hills were traditional enemies," contends Emily 
Cousins, "but the Hills comprised a neutral zone 
in which no one could be attacked" (Cousins 1996/ 
97:505). But unfortunately we are provided with 
no ethnohistorical, ethnographic or archaeologi- 
cal evidence to support her assertion that "As long 
as people did not carry weapons on their journey 
to the Hills, it was clear they had come to pray" 
(Cousins 1996/97:505). 

On the existence of such "neutral grounds" 
in the greater Yellowstone region or the Plains in 
general, therefore, the jury is still out. And when 
compared to catlinite, the more readily accessible 
nature of obsidian elsewhere would seem to 
weaken its role in any "neutral ground" theory in 
the park. Nonetheless, and despite ample evidence 
of bloody skirmishing between Blackfeet and 
other tribes in the park, the notion that Yellow- 
stone was a zone of peace persists; indeed, re- 
searcher Joseph Weixelman was told by a Shos- 
hone consultant that "as they came for purposes 
other than warfare, tribes did not fight each other 
here" (Weixelman 1992:59). Nez Perce historian 
Adeline Fredin reported to Weixelman much the 
same, that at Yellowstone "any hostility was for- 
gotten, and left outside the area" (quoted in 
Weixelman 1992:59). And a Kootenai-Salish con- 
sultant contributed to this theme: 

To my understanding, once they went to 
gather tools, that was kind of a place where 

they didn't war with each other. It was a 
common ground where they didn't fight 
when they were in there gathering their 
material that they needed for their tools, 
their projectile points. That is kind of an 
understanding that I had of that site. That 
was really special for me to make that posi- 
tive connection again. To go back there and 
walk the same land that some of my an- 
cestors walked [TT Interview, Pablo, Mon- 
tana, August 22, 1995]. 

In so far as access to obsidian is concerned, 
it is significant that the mineral actually can be 
found at more than one source in and around Yel- 
lowstone National Park. In fact, Cannon and 
Hughes (1995) note that the literature on Yellow- 
stone National Park contains references to nearly 
two dozen sources of obsidian within the bound- 
aries of the park and more importantly, chemical 
studies for 794 artifacts indicate they were made 
of obsidian from twelve different sources in and 
around the park. It is true that about three-fourths 
of the artifacts were made from Obsidian Cliff 
obsidian, but this is clearly not the only source. 
Eighteen percent of the sample is from Idaho ob- 
sidian while six percent comes from obsidian 
sources in Jackson Hole (Cannon and Hughes 
1995). As Holmer has stated, "...[In] my recent 
study on obsidian use in the Upper Snake River 
Basin ...Obsidian Cliff from Yellowstone is not 
heavily represented. However, there has been very 
little work done in the counties nearer to Yellow- 
stone so I suspect the low numbers reflect the na- 
ture of the data base more than prehistoric use of 
the resource" (Personal communication, Richard 
N. Holmer to Peter Nabokov, February 27, 1997). 

Curiously, the attention paid by scientists to 
Obsidian Cliff shortly after its discovery was fol- 
lowed by a period when the site was largely ig- 
nored. During the extensive Work Project Admin- 
istration projects at archaeological sites across the 
United States, other locations in the region were 
investigated, such as Pictograph Cave, along the 
Yellowstone River in Montana (Mulloy 1958) and 
Dinwoody Cave, on the Wind River Reservation 
in Wyoming (Sowers 1941 ). Perhaps no work was 
attempted at Obsidian Cliff because its location 
inside Yellowstone National Park made it off lim- 
its, yet that was not the case in other national parks. 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 129 

Furthermore, this period of neglect was given a 
scholarly justification with a thesis by Jake 
Hoffman, a graduate student at Montana State 
University (Missoula) who served as crew chief 
for the first sponsored archaeological survey in 
the park in 1958-59. Visiting Obsidian Cliff with 
his crews, he found no artifacts around the out- 
crop and declared that any claims for the use of 
Obsidian Cliff by prehistoric cultures were grossly 

Probably with good reason Hoffman sur- 
mised that whatever artifacts had once been there 
were likely picked up by tourists. In their diaries 
dozens of tourists have suggested that collecting 
obsidian was a common practice in the park. Take 
for example, the following 1884 account of a jour- 
ney through the Yellowstone "Wonderland": 

At three o'clock off we go — a pull of fifty- 
five minutes lands us at top of the long 
hill. The only "object of interest" being 
an old Indian tepee, old, ugly and empty, 
first and only sign of Indians seen in the 
Park. We stop at the glass mountain and 
fill up odd corners — of the ambulances 
with obsidian — [Anonymous 1884:13th 

In this description insult is added to Indians 
at two levels. First, their house remains are la- 
beled ugly and second, their prized obsidian is sto- 
len as curio. It is these sorts of accounts that led 
Hoffman to believe that Obsidian Cliff was cor- 
rupted as a viable archaeological site: 

My observation of curious tourists at Ob- 
sidian Cliff suggest that it a rare person 
who doesn't pick up or knock off a few 
chips. Projecting this suggestion over 
ninety years and several million tourists, 
the extensive quarrying marks on Obsid- 
ian Cliff lose archaeological significance. 
Many of the quarrying marks are due to 
sampling by U.S.G.S. geologists (Clarke 
1896. 1900; Hague 1887, 1899; Iddings 
1885) who probably took many samples 
from random areas of the Cliff | Hoffman 

What is unfortunate is that Hoffman and his 
crews did not explore the upland plateau above 
Obsidian Cliff where extensive pits and mines still 

remain as evidence to the thousands of hours of 
work that went into quarrying the obsidian. Nor 
was this portion of the site studied in detail until 
after the 1988 fires when the National Park Ser- 
vice assessed the damage to Yellowstone's cul- 
tural resources. Fortunately the fires did not badly 
impact the buried obsidian or the quarry pits, and 
this research resulted in the aforementioned study 
and compilation of information on Obsidian Cliff 
(Davis etal. 1995). 

What caused Obsidian Cliff to regain its ear- 
lier prominence in scientific circles were the neu- 
tron activation studies which allowed geochem- 
ists to source the mineral. Early in these experi- 
ments, James Griffin, a world-renowned archae- 
ologist from the University of Michigan and a 
founder of obsidian studies, gave an invited lec- 
ture at the University of Montana in which he used 
the analogy of making an angel food cake to de- 
scribe how obsidian was originally formed. On 
one occasion, he explained, a cook might whip a 
dozen large egg whites, fold in slightly less than 
one cup of flour, a bit more sugar, a full teaspoon 
of cream of tartar, and less than a teaspoon of va- 
nilla, while the next time the egg whites might be 
from extra large eggs, and the cook might fold in 
slightly less flour, a bit more sugar, slightly less 
cream of tartar, and more vanilla. While on both 
occasions the result was recognized as Angel Food 
cake, Dr. Griffin explained that the ingredients 
differed slightly. 

Returning to his example of obsidian forma- 
tion, Dr. Griffin said that when volcanoes supplied 
the original heat for melting and fusing the sand 
at Obsidian Cliff, the ingredients contained trace 
amounts of barium, strontium and zirconium. If 
another batch of sand in a different location was 
heated, it also produced a mineral that was recog- 
nizably "obsidian" but the trace elements in its 
constitution were slightly different. Using precise 
data on such differences, it has therefore become 
possible to "fingerprint" obsidian found in vari- 
ous archaeological sites, and the first surprising 
fact discovered by this process was that the ob- 
sidian from the high status burials in the Hopewell 
culture of Ohio had been quarried from Obsidian 
Cliff. Although this idea had been put forward in 
earlier years, here was this definite proof from Yel- 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

lowstone which excited archaeologists about the 
wider potential for identifying obsidian sources 
in their research. Geochemists can now use x-ray 
fluorescence, "a non-destructive technique in 
which the obsidian is bombarded with x-rays, al- 
lowing rare radioactive elements to be counted in 
parts per million. Most obsidian contains the same 
elements; what x-ray fluorescence tells us is the 
relative proportions of those elements in each 
sample" (Cannon 1993:8). Coupled with these 
methods for studying the ingredients in each batch 
of obsidian, scientists discovered that obsidian 
forms a hydration rind on its surface that thickens 
through time (Friedman and Smith 1960; Davis 
1972). Measurements of these rinds allow for es- 
timates as to the age of the artifacts on which they 
are found and, although there are many problems 
with the method, improvements continue to be 
made (Friedman and Cannon 1995). 

Once again, we need not duplicate here re- 
cent compilation of information on Obsidian Cliff 
(Davis et al 1995). For this chapter, however, the 
subject of obsidian has allowed us to reinvesti- 
gate the role that the stone material and its famous 
Cliff played in the lives of the Sheep Eaters. 

5. Bows. Another intriguing artifact associ- 
ated with the Sheep Eaters is the bow fashioned 
from mountain sheep horn or elk antlers. The no- 
tion of an extremely powerful killing machine 
crafted from the strong, curved crown of the very 
creature it was designed to bring down has fasci- 
nated anthropologists and do-it-yourself artisans 
for years. 

Horn bows appear to have been prized by 
all the Plains tribes and used in ceremonial dances 
as well as for everyday hunting. One appears as a 
mark of warrior insignia in the famous painting 
by Karl Bodmer of Pehriska-Ruhpa, a Hidatsa 
Indian who posed for the artist in his Dog Society 
costume. It is not known if this bow was made by 
the Hidatsa or if it was traded to the Hidatsa from 
the Sheep Eaters or made by another group such 
as the Crow, and traded to the Hidatsa. Once again 
our first glimpse of this centerpiece of Sheep Eater 
hunting paraphernalia comes from Osborne Rus- 
sell. After his visit on July 29, 1835, with the same 
Lamar Valley group of Indians mentioned earlier, 
Russell provided this memorable image: 

They were well armed with bows and ar- 
rows pointed with obsidian. The bows 
were beautifully wrought from Sheep, 
Bufalloe and Elk horns secured with Deer 
and Elk sinews and ornamented with por- 
cupine quills and generally about 3 feet 
long [Russell 1965:26-27]. 

Usually these bows were made from bighorn 
sheep horns or elk antlers, since bison horns did 
not reach lengths sufficient for bows. However, 
Lowie indicates that three pieces of bison horn 
might be laminated into bows with the help of 
sinew wrapping (1924:246). Modern-day bow 
makers who have worked with elk antlers indi- 
cate it is difficult to remove the branch points, and 
that their quality varies according to the time of 
the year they were acquired (Anonymous 1991:6). 
But the best quality horn bows appear to be crafted 
from bighorn sheep horns. 

Currently on exhibit in the Museum of the 
Mountain Man of the Sublette County History So- 
ciety, located in Pinedale, Wyoming, one of these 
horn bows was originally recovered from a cave 
high in the Gros Ventre Mountains of western 
Wyoming (Frison 1980:173). These slopes are 
certainly within Sheep Eater territory, and this bow 
is obviously an authentic example of old horn 
manufacture. Donated to the Museum by Gene 
Chapman and estimated, on the museum label, to 
date from the 1800-1850 period, its two basic 
halves are formed from two bighorn sheep horns, 
very likely from a matched pair belonging to one 
animal. While it is currently missing, the joint was 
apparently strengthened by another piece of horn 
that was shaped and glued across it. All the rough 
outer horn has been removed, and the horns some- 
how shaped with shaving tools to create the bow. 
The bow was then backed with continuous pieces 
of sinew which were glued all down its back 
length. Sinew fragments are evident at the ends, 
and it was also sinew-wrapped where the center 
joint piece is missing. The entire length measures 
83 cm, or about 33 inches. 

Recently Tom Lucas, an archer and sheep 
horn bow enthusiast from Lander, Wyoming, has 
experimented with making these weapons. Al- 
though Lucas has neither seen a native-made sheep 
horn bow nor read any instructions on how to make 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 


them, he learned a lot from his trial-and-error ap- 
proach to fashioning a horn bow. First he removed 
the horns from the skull and softened them by 
plunging them into hot water. According to Lucas, 
the hotter the water the faster the horn softens, 
but moderately hot water will also work, only more 
slowly. Following the outline of the curl, he then 
cut a strip from each horn which retained the outer 
casing of the horn that would be removed later. 
To straighten out each end, he dunked them back 
in hot water, and when they were pliable, clamped 
them between two boards. The ensuing drying 
process in this clamp took 7 to 10 days. 

Shaping began while the straightened horn 
was still damp, and if needed, it was redipped into 
hot water. While Lucas fashioned the horn with 
knife and rasp, he boiled the shavings into glue. 
In this shaping process, Lucas worked the pliable 
bow sides with his hands to take out any side 
curves. When this work was nearly complete, he 
beveled the butt ends until they fit tightly together 
prior to gluing. For this Lucas first put two small 
pegs through the butt ends to hold them for the 
glue. Next he fit two additional pieces of shaped 
horn over the joint, gluing one on the belly and 
another on the back of the bow. To add tensile 
strength for the pull he made sure that the back of 
the bow was actually the inside of the horn's natu- 
ral curl. 

Then he glued sinew all down the back of 
the bow, allowing it to dry before layering on ad- 
ditional strips of sinew. Lucas allowed up to 30 
days for this important process. Finally, more strips 
of wet sinew were wrapped around the stock to 
form the grip and to strengthen the all-important 
center joint. When complete and strung with a 
twined sinew cord, these efficient, short bows 
possessed an estimated 60 to 70 pound pull. 

In its basic steps, Lucas' trial-and-error pro- 
cess of bow-making appears to be essentially the 
same as that found in the ethnographic literature. 
From an independent rancher/researcher named 
Jack Contor, who interviewed Indians living at 
Fort Hall, Idaho, David Dominick ( 1 964: 155) ob- 
tained an unpublished account of the making of a 
Sheep Eater bow. The process was said to take 
two months to complete. His description goes as 

These bows were made from the thick 
ridge of the upper side of the ram's horn. 
The horn is heated over the coals to soften 
it and then the naturally curing horn was 
straightened. Unwanted portions of the 
horn were whittled away, and the remain- 
ing solid piece was 18 to 24 inches long 
and one inch thick at the butt. Heat was 
again applied, making the horn semi-plas- 
tic, and it was smoothed and shaped by 
pounding with a round stone. The end re- 
sult was a very smooth and evenly tapered 
piece which was oval-shaped in cross sec- 
tion. A duplicate of this was made for the 
other ram's horn, and the two pieces were 
beveled at their butt ends and fitted to- 
gether. A separate piece of horn about five 
inches long and as wide as the butt end 
was placed at their junction. Wet rawhide 
was then wrapped around the three pieces. 
When it dried, this made a very firm joint. 
Sinew strips which came from the neck 
and back of large animals were glued to 
the back of the bow to give it added 
strength [Dominick 1964:155]. 

But there are also some interesting differ- 
ences between the bow-making processes de- 
scribed by Lucas and Contor: (a) the Indians' use 
of coals to heat the horn, rather than water; (b) 
their pounding the bow into shape with a round 
stone; (c) the application of "rawhide" to bind the 
joint; and (d) the absence of glue or pegs in the 
joint. It should be noted that Contor did not watch 
someone make a bow, and details could be mis- 
construed through secondhand description, so the 
"rawhide" could actually be sinew, and some sort 
of additional fastening must have strengthened the 
joint where these creations are most vulnerable. 
Furthermore, there was possibly more than one 
way to manufacture a horn bow (see Appendix D 
for another modern-day experiment with horn 
bow- making together with a list of Indian-made 
horn bows in American museums, kindly provided 
by Bill Holm, world-renowned expert on Indian 
arts, master craftsman, and professor emeritus of 
University of Washington's Thomas Burke Me- 
morial Washington State Museum). 

Another interesting mention of horn bow 
manufacture among the Shoshone comes from 
Elijah Nicholas Wilson (affectionately known as 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Figure 3.9. For his information on Sheep Eaters, Ake 
Hultkrantz relied on a kin cluster of four or five 
interrelated "bearers of the Sheepeater tradition " 
who lived in the Sage Creek area (See Chapter 5, 
figure 5.1. in this document for portraits of some of 
these individuals). In his view, these were the only 
remaining "core group of mountain Indians" who 
could speak authoritatively about Sheep Eater culture. 
Prominent among them was the elderly woman named 
Pawagap (above, photo courtesy of Ake Hultkrantz), 
meaning "Water Bush, " who was locally known as 
Pearl Cody. She told Hultkrantz that she was a baby 
"long ago: when the buffaloes ran around among the 
mountains. " Actually born in the mountains, she spent 
her childhood with her father, a man named 
Wandziatsi, or "Antelope Horn. "Although the Wind 
River Reservation Agency gave her birth date as 1871, 
in 1948 Hultkrantz heard that she was ninety years 
old, while in 1955 her age was given as one hundred. 

According to Hultkrantz, her first husband was the 
story-teller Pandzofa:ygo, meaning "Bare Spot, " 
whose nickname was Tonoway gare, meaning "Sits 
on a Grease-wood. " Her second husband was 

Tojandisona?, which means "He Uses a Dirty Plate. " 
A medicine man and rain magician, her third 
husband was known by many names, Nazaha?ni, "He 
Drives (a horse) for Himself , " but in English he was 
called Valentine Cody. However, he also used the 
nicknames Paxongu:?, "Purple Bull" and Mumbic, 
meaning "Owl. " 

In 1948 Hultkrantz regarded this woman as one of 
his key consultants. Even though by the time of his 
later visits in 1955 and 1958 she had become 
enfeebled, she still possessed "direct experience of 
the old Sheepeater pre-reservation life. " Much of her 
information had come from her father, who had 
passed on his knowledge of Sheep Eater religion, 
and customs such as the fact that "my father told me 
that we never ate dogs or horses. " When Hultkrantz 
knew her she was stooped and walked with a stick. 
At his last visit to Wind River she was living alone in 
a cloth tent "that only contained her simple bed and 
a small table at the entrance " (Information from Ake 
Hultkrantz, Sheep Eater Manuscript, N.D., pp. 54- 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 133 

"Uncle Nick"), who lived with the Shoshone as a 
boy in the 1850s (Wilson 1985:vi). Wilson wrote 
in his memoirs some sixty years later: 

The bows were sometimes made of moun- 
tain sheep horns, which have been thrown 
into some hot spring and left there until 
they were pliable. Then they were shaped, 
and a strip of sinew was stuck on the back 
with some kind of balsam gum that was 
about as good as glue. This made a pow- 
erful bow [Wilson 1985:107, emphasis 

While this account lacks detail, it tends to 
confirm parts of the Lucas bow-making method — 
the use of hot water and glue, although the men- 
tion of balsam gum is confusing because it could 
not have been obtained in the region. What is most 
striking, however, is its testimony that Indians took 
advantage of thermal pools for softening the horns. 
Considering the availability of hot water in Yel- 
lowstone National Park, this exploitation of hot 
springs seems a significant element in the Wilson 
description. Yet another fragment of horn bow lore 
comes from the meticulous fieldworker, Robert 
Lowie, who worked among the Northern Shos- 
hone even before he began his long-term cover- 
age of the Crow. Lowie noted that their elk horn 
bows were constructed from a single piece of the 
horn, backed with sinew and decorated with por- 
cupine quills that were wrapped around the bow 
limbs. But Lowie also described sheep horn bows: 

Of a different type were the compound big- 
horn bows, consisting of two parts spliced 
at the center with sturgeon glue made from 
boiling rendered fish parts and with deer- 
sinews wound around the splice and se- 
cured by their butt- ends, the small ends 
bending outward at the ends of the bow. 
Sometimes the sinews covered the whole 
width of the back. For ornament, the skin 
of a snake was glued to the bow [Lowie 

Lowie's description of the ends as bending 
outward suggests that this was a recurve bow, 
pulled against the natural curl of the horn, much 
as Lucas described. Several authors mention deco- 
ration with flattened and wrapped porcupine quills, 
but Lowie's addition of snake skin sounds novel. 
Taking two to three months to complete, these 

bows were highly-valued and extensively-traded 
with other tribes. In fact a well-made Northern 
Shoshone horn bow was said to go for no less than 
five to ten horses (Fowler and Liljeblad 1 986:439; 
Dominick 1964:156). 

6. Arrows. As for the missiles shot by these 
bows we do have some interesting archaeological 
evidence. From the excavations at Wickiup Cave, 
a presumed Sheep Eater campsite about thirty 
miles west of Yellowstone National Park, wooden 
arrows shafts were recovered which exhibit ten- 
ons or ends that are carved to a narrower diameter 
than the remainder of the shaft. The Sheep Eaters 
seem to have used compound arrows, which were 
about 2.5 feet in length, in which the tenon was 
inserted into the hollow end of the arrow's 
foreshaft — although Jack Contor was told they 
were crafted in three sections (Dominick 
1964: 156). Their wooden bodies were used again 
and again, while the reed foreshafts with their 
stone points might be replaced whenever they 
snapped off. 

These foreshafts were often manufactured 
from horse grass (Equisetum spp.) and sinew- 
bound to the tenon. As for the main shafts, there 
was a choice of woods. The arrows at Wickiup 
Cave were identified as elm and cottonwood, but 
Jack Contor was told that the Idaho Sheep Eaters 
preferred dogwood and mock orange, while Lowie 
(1909:192) indicates that greasewood was a fa- 
vorite choice and the field specimens examined 
by Murphy and Murphy were merely identified 
as "hardwood" (Murphy and Murphy 1986:301). 
Elsewhere, Lowie (1924:246) has described the 
Shoshone using serviceberry wood that they first 
dried and cured for a year. Stripped of their bark, 
all these raw rods required working out their slight 
kinks with the aid of a wrench — a hole drilled in 
an animal rib bone — and possibly limbering over 
a fire. They were further smoothed by grinding 
them against sandstone before attaching the feath- 
ers, leaving groove marks which can still be seen 
at some Montana and Wyoming sites. 

The fletching on the Wickiup Cave arrows 
was fastened about five inches beyond the nock 
end of the shaft, a long style which is associated 
with Northern Shoshone arrows (Lowie 
1909:192). Although Dominick (1964:156) indi- 
cates that Sheep Eaters preferred owl or eagle 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

feathers because they would not absorb blood, the 
feather pieces from Wickiup Cave were identified 
as grouse. Several arrows collected from the 
Northern Shoshone before 1 869 are fletched with 
feathers from a red-tailed hawk (Murphy and 
Murphy 1986:301). As with their arrow woods, 
the Sheep Eaters apparently had considerable lee- 
way in their choice of arrow feathers. Also, their 
tips might be steeped in a deadly poison compound 
made from animal spleen mixed with crushed red 
ants (Lowie 1909:192 quoting Lewis and Clark), 
although we are not aware if this was used in hunt- 
ing as well as warfare. 

The Food Quest I: 
Hunting the Mountain Sheep 

We must never forget that the bison-hunting 
and horse-riding Indians of the Great Plains whose 
imagery caught the world's fancy in the 19th cen- 
tury — and against whose culture the Sheep Eat- 
ers were negatively assessed — only represent the 
thinnest slice of human occupancy of the greater 
Yellowstone region. While this does not diminish 
our interest in their uses of the Yellowstone Pla- 
teau for hunting, vision-questing, shortcuts dur- 
ing long-distance travels, or the place it held in 
their world-views, it does make us appreciate more 
fully the uniquely mountain lifeways which de- 
veloped over thousands of years that supported 
the Sheep Eaters. To the uninitiated the high moun- 
tains appear impassable and harsh, but to people 
willing to move around and adjust to changing 
seasonal and climactic realities they could become 
a storehouse, a church and a home. For the well- 
trained forager the plant and animal bounties of 
the highlands were especially available in spring 
and summertime. This is because "Mountains have 
one feature which the plains can never claim," 
write Dale and Lynn Fredlund, "a fantastic diver- 
sity of ecological zones within a relatively small 
area." As they elaborate on the benefits of this 

Specific vegetable resources seem to last 
forever in the mountains. For example, 
huckleberries begin to bear fruit about the 
first week of July in sunny areas at low 
elevations and are finished by the end of 

that month; but at higher elevations they 
can still be found at the end of August or 
the first of September [Fredlund and 
Fredlund 1971:48]. 

Of the animals that can be found year-round 
in the Rocky Mountain uplands one of the most 
easily hunted are the mountain sheep. As their eth- 
nic name suggests, the peregrinations of the Sheep 
Eaters were symbiotically bound up with the pri- 
mary food source, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep 
(Ovis canadensis). It is possible to generally plot 
the locations of the Sheep Eaters at various times 
during the year by examining the migration pat- 
terns of these animals. In the late 1800s, before 
Euro-Americans altered the patterns of bighorn 
sheep, the herds appear to have followed several 
migration patterns. According to early census data, 
some herds (or portions of herds) stayed in the 
park throughout the year, wintering in the vicin- 
ity of Mount Everts (Caslick 1993:6). Other herds 
in the vicinity of Yellowstone National Park ap- 
parently moved from one part of their habitat to 
another during the year in a migration pattern that 
was affected by the weather and snow depths. 
Some sheep herds appear to have moved to lower 
elevations during the winter where there was less 
snow cover and back to higher elevations during 
the spring and summer. 

Whatever their movements we can expect 
the Sheep Eaters to be somewhere nearby through- 
out these annual migrations. Their namesake and 
main staff of life, the species of mountain crea- 
tures on which the Sheep Eaters depended were 
actually not that hard to kill. But stalking the big- 
horn sheep efficiently did probably require the 
development of techniques based upon close ob- 
servation of their habits. For instance, the Shos- 
hone must have learned early on that bighorns can 
be approached quite closely and in plain sight so 
long as hunters positioned themselves on the 
slopes below the sheep. Hence the hunters climbed 
towards the animals quietly and steadily, ascend- 
ing in a zigzag pattern with the sheep watching 
them all the while, until they were within arrow 
range (Barrette 1963:22). According to Dick 
Washakie, during the winter and early spring, soli- 
tary hunters or small groups wearing snowshoes 
and using dogs drove the animals into deep snow. 
Floundering through the drifts, the sheep were 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 135 

sufficiently slowed down to make them easy prey 
(Shimkin notes 1937). 

A second hunting method was also premised 
on familiarity with sheep behavior. To escape from 
danger the Shoshone knew that bighorn sheep usu- 
ally retreated from their meadow pasturage by 
leaping up to rocky precipices and higher outcrops 
where their sure, quick hooves allowed them to 
skip rapidly across rough terrain. Hunting in the 
late winter or early spring, the native hunters 
searched for animals who were grazing in mead- 
ows below basalt crags and other dark-colored 
rocks. Warmed by the sun, snow on these rocks 
and talus slopes melted well before the drifts on 
the flatter slopes. Preparing for this hunting event, 
the natives would have scooped out hiding blinds 
from the rocky talus, producing circular pits about 
1 .5 meters or 5 feet in diameter and 1 meter or 3 
feet in depth. Examples of these blinds still can 
be found inside of Yellowstone National Park and 
the surrounding ranges. On a remote spot high on 
Mount Everts, for instance, a backpacker friend 
of park historian Lee Whittlesey told him of El- 
and circular-shaped circles of rocks and logs which 
sound much like pits seen on slopes opposite the 
Gardner River from Electric Peak (Whittlesey to 
Laura Joss, personal communication, n.d.). While 
a portion of the men concealed themselves here, 
their comrades got into position just below the 
grazing sheep. At a signal the drivers and their 
dogs broke out into yells and barking (Lowie 
1909:185; Steward 1938:37). According to 
Alexander Ross, the Sheep Eaters were: 

...complete masters of what is called the 
cabalistic language of birds and beasts, and 
can imitate to the utmost perfection the 
singing of birds, the howling of wolves, 
and the neighing of horses, by which 
means they can approach, by day and 
night, all travelers [Ross 1924:241]. 

And the European scholar Bengt Anell de- 
scribes the use by western American hunters of 
yells and calls to drive game into traps, specifi- 
cally the imitation of wolf howls: 

...the beaters did their utmost to give a 
faithful imitation of howling wolves, a 
trick which in areas where the quarry was 
torn to pieces by wolves did not fail to pro- 
duce an effect [Anell 1969: 1 16-1 171. 

In this wolf habitat it is not impossible to 
imagine that the Sheep Eaters driving the quarry 
ever upwards were conceivably howling like 
wolves. Frightened by the imminent danger, the 
alarmed sheep rapidly scaled the heights to the 
talus grade as they sought to escape. The hunters 
hidden in the pits close by waited until the sheep 
were within range, and then fired arrows at their 
white bodies which would have been clearly out- 
lined targets against the darker rocks. 

More labor intensive was the old 
Shoshonean technique for hunting bighorns 
known as the "drive." This called for construct- 
ing long fences and corrals from deadfall timber. 
Still existing in Montana and Wyoming are the 
remains of fifteen to twenty of these sheep drive 
sites. Although most of the wood portions of these 
drives within Yellowstone National Park have dis- 
integrated from decay or wildfire, according to 
Aubrey Haines one of them stretched up a hill- 
side across the stream from today's Golden Gate 
canyon road. He also knew of another to the east 
of the Gardner River in the area where an old "elk 
drive" line was also located, near the Gardiner- 
to-Jardine road. A third stood in the vicinity of 
Mammoth Hot Springs (Stuart Conner letter to 
Bonnie Hogan, 12/9/73). If Superintendent 
Philetus Norris' comments in his 1881 annual re- 
port are any indication, at one time these sheep 
drives must have been fairly common in the park, 
even though he apparently mistakes them all for 
circular breastworks: 

Four of these were discovered during this 
season, viz., one beside our camp, in a 
grove north of the crossing of Willow 
Creek, some three miles below Mary's 
Lake... It is about thirty feet long by twenty 
wide, and constructed of fragments of logs. 
stumps, poles, and stones, with ingenuity 
and skill proverbial to the beaver; nearly 
weather, wind, and bullet proof; about 
breast high, which is certainly less than 
when built, and situated, as usual, in a 
wind-fall then screened by a thicket of 
small pines, which are now large enough 
for bridge or building timber [Norris 

In the same report Norris locates three other 
drives he found in 1881 . One lay east of Yellow- 
stone Lake in the Stinkingwater drainage, another 

136 American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

was found near Bridger Lake, and the third stood 
on a branch of Barlow Fork of the Snake River. 
Since these do not correlate with any of the drives 
known historically in the Mammoth area, we get 
the impression that these sheep drive lines and 
corrals were not rare in the park. Thus when the 
authors of this study ran across Norris' mention 
that his artist companion, Albert Bierstadt, 
sketched an Indian deadfall corral and breastwork 
near Mary's Lake, we made every effort to pur- 
sue the illustration for this document. 

We learned that Bierstadt's Yellowstone 
sketchbook had "surfaced briefly in 1965 and has 
been unlocated since. A single note concerning it, 
v Yellowstone Camp, August 1881,' is all that re- 
mains a part of recorded history" (Hendricks 
1974:270). However our further inquiries revealed 
that a dealer in western art, William Bertsche, then 
of Great Falls, Montana, had written the New York 
Public Library on June 25, 1965, to ask for back- 
ground information about "two sketch books that 
were found among some paintings of Albert 
Bierstadt" which were now in his possession. As 
Bertsche described their contents: "There are 
sketches of the Madison River in Montana, Yel- 
lowstone Lake, geysers, buffalo, elk and moun- 
tain scenes. One sketch is dated 'Yellowstone 
Camp, August, 1881'" (Bertsche to New York Pub- 
lic Library, June 25, 1965). Two weeks later the 
library responded to Bertsche with "only rather 
negative evidence concerning the date of 
Bierstadt's visit to Yellowstone," although it did 
turn up one reference to a dated Bierstadt paint- 
ing, "Geysers, 1883" (New York Public Library, 
Art and Architecture Division to Bertsche, July 6, 
1965). In the October 28, 1881, edition of The New 
York Express, an interview with Bierstadt briefly 
describes his Yellowstone experiences, but there 
is no mention of these Indian structures or arti- 
facts. Before Mr. Bertsche's death in a Kalispell 
rest home in 1996 he personally informed Tom 
Minckler, a western art and rare book dealer in 
Billings, Montana — at the express request of our 
Yellowstone project — that he had turned over 
Bierstadt's Yellowstone sketchbooks to the Mon- 
tana Historical Society (Personal Conversation 
August 24, 1995). We then asked Peter H. Hassrick 
of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center to make a 
formal query to the Society, but he was notified 

by Society Registrar Janet Sperry that their review 
of the "maps, manuscripts and diaries" which 
Bertsche had donated in 1976 to their archives did 
not turn up the elusive Bierstadt Yellowstone 
sketchbook(s) (Sperry to Hassrick, January 30, 
1996). Though extremely desirous of obtaining the 
Bierstadt sketch for this document, time con- 
straints forced us to halt further investigation at 
this point. 

Back to sheep traps, it is certainly possible 
that some of the man-made structures described 
by Norris had not served that purpose. Fortifica- 
tions, corrals and other types of deadfall timber 
structures are known throughout the mountain 
west. Although there have been numerous ar- 
chaeological projects in Yellowstone National 
Park over the past thirty years, it is a lamentable 
oversight that these corrals, breastworks or forti- 
fications were not mapped and recorded. While 
photographs of the wickiups (tipi-shaped pole 
lodges) are fairly common, drawings and photos 
for other man-made timber remains are rare. One 
photograph of some decayed drive lines across 
from Golden Gate Canyon was taken by Hult- 
krantz in the 1960s, but the ground scrap was so 
scanty as to be nearly meaningless. 

Fortunately, however, old sheep traps of the 
same general style are fairly well-represented in 
the mountainous regions adjoining Yellowstone 
National Park. About a dozen were recorded by 
George Frison in the Absaroka and Wind River 
ranges, which still lie well within Sheep Eater ter- 
ritory (Frison et al. 1990; Frison 1991). Another 
sheep trap found a few miles west of the park was 
protected by local outfitters during the 1988 for- 
est fires (Frison 1991 :257), while more have been 
identified in the Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming 
(Frost 1941), the Lemhi Mountains, Idaho (Bar- 
rette 1963) and in the Bitterroot Mountains of 
southwestern Montana (Hogan 1974). In the sites 
for these traps we see additional evidence of the 
keen observation by Sheep Eaters of animal be- 
havior, for the great majority of them are con- 
structed near sheep-bedding grounds (Frison et al. 
1990:251). When the animals congregate in late 
November during the rutting season and through- 
out the following winter months, the bighorns pre- 
fer to bed on open, bare ridges where they can see 
long distances. If frightened, they will usually dart 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 137 

a short distance down slope before veering uphill 
to escape. The lengthy, V-shaped drive fences, 
which were stacked from deadfall with intermit- 
tent rock cairns filling the gaps, were laid so that 
these escape routes funneled between the fenc- 
ing. Once inside the drive lines the sheep were 
chased into catch-pens and easily killed with clubs 
or spears. 

Among the six sheep traps located adjacent 
to a major sheep-bedding area on the Wiggins Fork 
of the Wind River, Frison distinguished two dis- 
tinct types. The simplest variety had its drive lines 
extending along the side of a ridge and over a steep 
decline. At the base of the decline, often hidden 
in the trees, a rectangular-shaped catch-pen con- 
structed of logs laid into tiers awaited the animals. 
As measured by Frison et al. ( 1990:2 1 8) these pens 
range from 14.8 feet to 23.9 feet in length and 8.2 
feet to 13.5 feet in width; usually they are posi- 
tioned at a lower elevation than the sloping entry 
ramps, which are built of logs leaning into the pens 
on their high side at the apex of the drive lines. 
Covered with soil and vegetation to help conceal 
their traps, their inward-leaning logs prevent the 
sheep from leaping out once they have been driven 
inside. Although the catch-pens examined by 
Frison have eroded, the tallest ones remain stand- 
ing to a height of five feet. The side walls lean 
into the structure as a further hindrance to the 
sheep escaping. Frison et al (1990:226) report that 
one even had a log in its bottom that could be 
swung out, like a pole corral gate, probably to al- 
low for removal of the sheep carcasses. 

The larger, more elaborate type of trap added 
a circular or oval corral near the terminus of the 
V-shaped drive lines, where the sheep were con- 
tained prior to sending them into the catch-pen. It 
is Frison's idea that this allowed the hunters to 
control the number of sheep they had in the catch- 
pen at any one time. Perhaps more importantly, it 
let the hunters cull those animals they wanted for 
slaughter and others which they perhaps wanted 
to release. A third type, described by forest ranger 
A.G. Clayton, seemed to combine features of 
sheep trap and buffalo jump. Based on the remains 
of one which Clayton observed on the east wall 
of the West Fork of Torrey Creek near its mouth 
(in the Yellowstone National Park Timber District 
which later became Washakie National Forest and 

later Shoshone National Forest), this feature had 
two drive fences of wood that converged at an 
opening through which the game could pass. "But 
the opening would probably lead out onto a ledge 
over which the game could not go," Clayton be- 
lieved, "and they would then be rushed from be- 
hind" (Clayton 1926:278). 

The second type of trap probably took the 
most time and effort to construct. Based on the 
condition of timbers in their catch-pens, Frison et 
al. (1990:222) believe these larger traps are more 
recent, and that sheep hunting technology im- 
proved through time. Might this be evidence of a 
game management system, by which the Sheep 
Eaters controlled the numbers and types of ani- 
mals they took from the herds? By freeing preg- 
nant females and the very young, they would have 
assured themselves of a resource for the future. 

Once the sheep were in the catch-pen. Frison 
et al (1990) suggest they were mostly dispatched 
with clubs. This conclusion is based on the ab- 
sence of projectile points in the catch-pens, where 
one might expect to find them if the hunters were 
shooting the penned animals with arrows. Short 
spears could have been jabbed at the animals, but 
the recovery of several hardwood clubs near sheep 
traps indicates they may have been more efficient 
killing tools. One of these clubs has a flanged end, 
runs about the length of a billy club or softball 
bat, and features holes where a wrist strap would 
have facilitated hanging onto it during hefty 
swings. Of two other sticks found by Frison one 
was simply a heavy stick with a rawhide wrap- 
ping, the other was a pine limb with a weighty 
burl on one end (Frison et al. 1990:230-23 1 ). 

Among surrounding tribes these Sheep Eat- 
ers had such a reputation for effective hunting that 
they were rumored to possess a powerful medi- 
cine that allowed them to control whole herds of 
sheep (Barrette 1963:22). Among the Shoshone 
of the Great Basin the control of game animals by 
charming them during communal hunts is gener- 
ally associated with hunting antelope (Lowie 
1924:303: Steward 1938:34-37), while among the 
Wind River Shoshone hunting shamans coaxed 
the same animals into wooden traps that sound 
remarkably similar to those used by the Sheep 
Eaters (Shimkin 1986:386). 

Always on the lookout for any inkling of 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

hunting magic among Wyoming's mountain 
dwellers, Frison noticed the occasional presence 
of small circular structures which were either in- 
corporated into the drive lines or were positioned 
on ridges near the traps, but always with a com- 
manding view of both the drive complex and the 
approaching sheep. Might they not have been spe- 
cial booths for shamans to make their magic dur- 
ing the hunt? More persuasive evidence of super- 
natural practice came from his discovery of ram 
skulls placed in trees near the catch-pens (Frison 
et al 1990:232-234). Some had rested in the 
crotches of branches for so long that bark had 
grown around them, and it was necessary to cut 
them down for safeguarding in museums. All told 
nearly a dozen of these elevated skulls were found, 
many exhibiting broken crania for the removal of 
brains (Frison et al. 1990:234). Early trappers had 
reported the veneration of these ram's skull trees 
by the Flathead, a tribal group whose territory was 
adjacent to the Sheep Eaters on the north and west 
(Ferris 1940; Wiesel 1951), and hence Frison has 
wondered whether the Sheep Eaters learned this 
magic from their neighbors or vice-versa (Frison 
etal. 1990). 

Clearly these Shoshoneans were intimately 
acquainted with the habits of bighorn sheep and 
were capable of hunting them very efficiently. 
Much like bison to Plains Indians, bighorn sheep 
were their staple, and they used them in many 
ways. The meat, of course, was their main food 
supply, the hides became clothing, and the horns 
were turned into bows, spoons, and arrow shaft 
straighteners. The activity of acquiring them must 
have been so much a part of Sheep Eater identity 
that it comes as no surprise that they believed it 
would continue forever. As Hultkrantz has writ- 
ten of the Sheep Eater world-view: 

In religious beliefs spirits take the form of 
surrounding animals, and their haunts are 
supposed to lie at difficult passages — over- 
hanging cliffs, narrow passageways, etc. — 
or in places where tradition tells they ap- 
pear. The geysers and hot springs are resi- 
dences of supernatural powers. Life after 
death is supposed to lie in a mountainous 
region where mountain sheep hunting is 
part of the daily occupation [Hultkrantz 
n.d. 11:19]. 

The Food Quest II: Fishing 

But the Sheep Eaters did not subsist by sheep 
alone. Their appetite for fish distinguished them 
dramatically from their Plains neighbors like the 
Crow and the Blackfeet. Much of the following 
information on fishing actually derives from 
Demitri Shimkin's interviews with Wind River 
Shoshone in 1937, most prominently from Dick 
Washakie. Since Washakie was a Plains Shoshone 
we might ask whether his comments are relevant 
for the Mountain branch. But from all available 
data it seems that fishing techniques were fairly 
standard across Northern Shoshone territory, and 
most likely Sheep Eaters practices did not differ 
significantly. Obtained throughout the entire year, 
spring (June) was the optimal time for fish to con- 
gregate in shallow waters. But unlike their neigh- 
bors who lived along the Columbia and other pla- 
teau streams, the Sheep Eaters could not rely upon 
an annual fishing surplus, since the waters of the 
Yellowstone region are not subject to the dramatic 
spawning runs one finds farther west. None the 
less, they fished in Yellowstone Lake as well as 
other basins and sought fish along the mountain 
rivers as well. 

According to Dick Washakie fish were sec- 
ond only to bison as a preferred food source among 
his people, and one need only substitute "sheep" 
for bison in order to speculate that the same was 
true for the Sheep Eaters. Early trappers and trav- 
elers in Idaho describe fishing among the Sheep 
Eaters' linguistic cousins, the Northern Shoshone 
and Lemhi Shoshone, who were known histori- 
cally as Agaidika, or "salmon eaters" (Steward 
[1970] 1938:186-187; Murphy and Murphy 

Evidence of earlier fishing in the park comes 
in the form of stone net sinkers randomly found 
along the shores of Yellowstone Lake (Yellow- 
stone National Park collections in the Smithsonian 
Institution) which were inspected by our project 
in August 1996. Made by chipping notches into 
the sides of water worn pebbles, these distinctive 
artifacts also turn up in such Sheep Eater related 
sites throughout the wider region as Mummy Cave 
along the Shoshone River (Husted and Edgar n.d. 
ca. 1978). One well-made plummet (an elongated, 
torpedo-shaped stone with a hole through its top) 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 139 

Figure 3.10. Shoshone Dick Washakie with string of 
fish caught in Yellowstone National Park while 
guiding Owen Wister in 1887 (Photo courtesy of 
American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming). 

was found by Norris ( 1 88 lb:34) in the park and 
may have been a fishing accessory, but to our 
knowledge, no net sinkers have been dug from 
park sites. There is speculation that remains of a 
stone wall in shallows of Bridge Bay were part of 
a fish weir (Aubrey Haines interview March 13, 
1994), but individuals who have examined the 
feature believe it could also be a natural phenom- 
enon. At the same time, there is strong evidence 
for eating fish from recent excavations along the 
Gardner River, where fish bones intermixed with 
charred earth have been recovered from cooking 
pits (Ann Johnson, personal communication, July 
1995). Because of the virtual tabu against fish 
among the Blackfeet and Crow (McAllester 
1941 :602-604). these remains are more likely of 
Salish or Shoshonean origin. 

Historically the most abundant fish species 
in Yellowstone Lake were cutthroat trout, and in 
earlier days they were probably the dominant catch 
in the park. In the Yellowstone River, however, 
Indians went after whitefish and suckers, while 
they probably pulled grayling and other species 
out of streams and smaller lakes. Early references 

to fishing in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem 
are few and far between. On June 17. 1860, Cap- 
tain W. F. Raynolds noted that, "We were visited 
by Indians today, among who was Cut-Nose... I 
made him a small present, and from the others the 
men purchased some capital trout" (Raynolds 
1868:95). Although the Sheep Eaters were famil- 
iar with hooks and lines, they probably caught 
more fish with dams, weirs and fish baskets traps. 
Wherever the water channeled through a narrows, 
at lake inlets or stream shallows, they positioned 
temporary weirs or brush dams. Driving the fish 
into them, it was easy to spear or scoop them out 
with basket nets. Quickly assembled of perishable 
brush on the spot, these weirs do not survive very 
long, but they were probably quite effective, if 
one extrapolates from Norris' experience of build- 
ing one on June 3, 1 88 1 : 

Wishing a supply of trout... Rowland, Cut- 
ler, and myself rode to Trout Lake. and. 
after pacing around and sketching it. with 
brush and sods I slightly obstructed its in- 
let near the mouth. Within eight minutes 
thereafter the boys had driven down so 
many trout that we had upon the bank all 
that were desired, and the obstruction was 
removed, allowing the water to run off. and 
within three minutes thereafter we counted 
82 of them from 10 to 26 inches in length. 
Of these, 42 of the larger ones, aggregat- 
ing over 100 pounds, were retained for use, 
30 of the smaller ones returned to the lake 
unharmed, and the remaining 10 were, to- 
gether with a fine supply of spawn, dis- 
tributed in Longfellow's and other adja- 
cent ponds, which, although as large, and 
some of them apparently as favorable for 
fish as Trout Lake, are wholly destitute of 
them [Norris 1 88 1 b:30-3 1 ]. 

From Norris's fishing memoir we also learn 
that in 1881 three men could catch 100 pounds of 
fish with minimum effort in a short time, releas- 
ing the smaller ones to maintain the supply. Fur- 
thermore, while the distribution of fish was not 
uniform from lake to lake, the Sheep Eaters had 
sufficient places to fish with the ease described 
by Norris in order to meet their needs. Not far 
from Trout Lake is Soda Butte, which stands close 
to the spot where Osborne Russell (1965:26-27) 
describes a small camp of Sheep Eaters in late 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

July, 1835 who may have been fishing as well as 
sheep hunting to fill their larders. We might sus- 
pect Norris of a fisherman's tall tale except that in 
1880 an army surgeon remarked that the soldiers 
in his escort took so many trout from Trout Lake, 
each weighing about five pounds, that his boat 
was nearly swamped (S. Weir Mitchell quoted in 
Haines 1 977:11.398). Trout Lake continued to sup- 
ply fish to the miners in Cooke City who took 
large numbers with explosive powder and nets 
until the practice was stopped through the game 
laws protecting animals and fish in the park 
(Haines 1977:1.304). 

Sheep Eater check dams made of rocks and 
brush were probably much like that described by 
Norris, but perhaps the Indians also used the 
Northern Shoshone style of conical-shaped fish 
basket which Dick Washakie described for 
Shimkin (Interview notes 1937). The dams 
blocked the small streams, while weirs were con- 
structed by pushing pointed willows into soft mud 
and interlacing them with other willows to form a 
crude lattice-work fence. As for the baskets, they 
measured five feet long with an opening diameter 
of three feet and were woven from willow splints 
using a simple over-one and under-one checker- 
board pattern. Strips of bark finished the upper 
rim, bending the warp over and lashing it across 
the uppermost weft splint. The small end was fin- 
ished in the same way, except that the diameter of 
the opening was only about an inch. 

Positioned in the center of a rock dam, so 
that the stream current flowed through the basket's 
wide mouth, incoming fish had no alternative but 
to swim into it. Then the basket was either lifted 
out and dumped on the ground, or the fish were 
removed by hand. They could also be extracted 
from dams and weirs with the help of an eight to 
ten feet long spear tipped with a single barb carved 
out of greasewood. The barb's butt end was in- 
serted into the spear's split end, then bound in 
place with glue and sinew. The spears were thrust 
down using two hands, releasing with one and 
retaining hold with the other. 

While fishing could have occurred all year, 
an especially bountiful period was said to be dur- 
ing the spring run-off, when fish were moving 
downstream and basket traps were most effective. 
Certainly the Sheep Eaters favored convenient 

spots for dipping and spearing, but we have no 
indication that families owned rights to repeatedly- 
used holes or shorelines. In winter the traps would 
be abandoned with new ones tied together in 

When fishing was going on couples worked 
together, men constructing the dams and extract- 
ing the catch, women cleaning the fish for drying 
(smoking fish was apparently not a Shoshonean 
practice). After removing the viscera the back was 
split to remove the bones and head. Then the fil- 
lets were lined up to dry on a willow rack which 
stood five to six feet high and extended about six- 
teen feet in length. Into a boiling pot went the 
bones and heads for immediate consumption, 
while extra fish heads were tossed to the dogs. 
Another method of drying was to simply lay them 
on grass mats on the ground, but they had to be 
watched carefully lest the dogs did get them. De- 
pending upon the amount of sun and the weather, 
the drying process could take from one to two 
months. Once they were ready, the dried fish were 
stored in parfleches or baskets for use over the 

Dip nets made of willow were used to scoop 
up squirming bunches of minnows, which went 
into soups that were consumed almost immedi- 
ately. Although this might be considered a sec- 
ondary food pursuit, in October 1811a small vil- 
lage of Shoshone, probably near Fort Hall, Idaho, 
were observed drying small fish, about two inches 
long, along with roots and seeds (Irving 1 897:11, 1 8 
quoted from Steward 1938:205). In this case clean- 
ing was unnecessary, and their small bodies were 
eaten as is or pounded in mortars to make a fish 

Although fish may have played a much 
greater role in the Sheep Eater larder than previ- 
ously suspected, the activity does not leave the 
abundant evidence which archaeologists can re- 
cover from large game hunting and processing 
sites. And while fish bones do preserve in some 
locations it has only been in recent years that ar- 
chaeologists have used the sophisticated flotation 
techniques necessary for recovering their minus- 
cule bones. If the drying of fish took up to two 
months, it would have restricted the movements 
of the Sheep Eaters until it was completed. It is 
also apparent that fish would dry best during the 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 


summer or autumn when there was abundant sun- 
shine and less chance of rain or snow. Using these 
parameters, we might hazard a guess that the best 
fishing occurred between late May and late July, 
while the optimal times for drying them in Yel- 
lowstone National Park were from August to the 
end of September. 

As a region of overlapping influences for 
Great Basin and Plateau subsistence traditions, the 
greater Yellowstone ecosystem may still be un- 
der-recognized where fish utilization by Sheep 
Eaters is concerned. Walker believes, for instance, 
"that prior estimates of Lemhi Shoshone-Bannock 
reliance on fish have been too conservative" and 
that his initial review of their fishing practices 
"supports Swanson's argument for deep Plateau- 
Great Basin cultural linkages" which are evident 
in art, mythology, technology and social organi- 
zation" (Walker 1993a:246). The Shimkin and 
Hultkrantz material suggest that women and chil- 
dren joined in fishing — and that Shoshonean fish- 
ing seems to have been exempt from some of the 
restrictions and magic that preoccupied hunters 
for big game. However, Walker argues a different 
viewpoint for the Northern Shoshone, Bannock 
and their Sheep Eater associates: "There appear 
to be quite similar religious practices regarding 
fishing throughout the Plateau and Great Basin" 
he writes, and "The presence of fish leaders 
(chiefs), fish shamans, and veneration of the riv- 
ers and falls in both areas have been verified eth- 
nographically" (Walker 1993a:246). 

The Food Quest III: Foraging 

Although the name Sheep Eaters reflects a 
bias towards a meat diet, plants, much like fish, 
probably satisfied a greater part of the Sheep Eater 
nutritional needs than is usually credited. Ethno- 
graphic information on subsistence practices of 
hunting and gathering groups in the Great Basin 
suggest that roots, seeds, nuts and berries consti- 
tuted from 30 percent to 70 percent of their diet 
(Fowler and Liljeblad 1986:91-92). On the other 
hand, hunters and gatherers who live in sub-arc- 
tic environments not too different from Yellow- 
stone National Park, use few plants for food 
(Rogers and Smith 1981:134). Perhaps a more 

appropriate comparison is the Northern Shoshone 
who obtained their subsistence in the same region 
as the Sheep Eaters. According to Robert Lowie 
( 1924: 195), these foragers relied heavily on plants 
and it seems reasonable to assume the Sheep Eat- 
ers also incorporated them into their diet. 

Since archaeologists tend to recover large 
mammal bones and associated stone tools this can 
skew their interpretations towards a meat-biased 
economy. Except for a few manos and metates, 
archaeologists working in the Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park region seldom find tools specifically 
associated with plant collection and processing. 
The perishable nature of the wooden sticks used 
for digging roots and the baskets used in collect- 
ing seeds may account for this lack, but the tech- 
niques for processing and preparing plants are not 
well researched and archaeologists probably over- 
look some evidence. For example, pine nuts from 
both the limber pine and white bark pine are ex- 
cellent food sources in the Yellowstone National 
Park area, and both were probably eaten by Sheep 
Eaters. The cones could be roasted slightly to open 
them, or if the cones were taken after the first frost, 
the bracts opened naturally to release most of the 
seeds. As described by Fowler and Liljeblad 
( 1 986:65), the next step was to extract any remain- 
ing seeds by beating a pile of cones with sticks or 
tapping individual cones with a small hand stone 
while holding it on an anvil stone. Picked up lo- 
cally, used for this single purpose, and not kept 
for another season, it would be very difficult for 
any archaeologist to specify these rocks as pine 
nut-harvesting tools. Based upon Fowler's Great 
Basin Shoshonean material, however, other items 
used for seed-processing might be more easily 

Once extracted, the seeds were given a 
preliminary parching in an open twined 
fan-shaped tray to make the seed coats 
brittle. They were then shelled using a flat 
metate and, depending on the area, differ- 
ing types of large hullers. The seed coats 
were removed by winnowing in a fan- 
shaped tray. A final parching in twined or 
circular coiled trays prepared the seeds for 
grinding | Fowler and Liljeblad 1986:65). 

Fragments of baskets in association with 
stones which could have been used for hulling in 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

this fashion were recovered in Mummy Cave 
(McCracken et al. 1978:plate 26 and plate 34), 
and radiocarbon testing assigned them a date of 
AD 734. Similar tools have not been identified in 
Yellowstone National Park, but site environments 
in the area where basketry preservation is most 
likely (caves or rockshelters) have never been 
searched and the hullers may not be recognized. 

Seeds from many other plants, like sunflow- 
ers (Helianthus annus), knotweed (Polygonum 
sp.), and lamb's quarter (Chenopodium) were also 
collected and eaten without additional processing, 
crushed with manos and metates and used as flour, 
or boiled and added to soups (Steward [1970] 
1938: 189). Soups made in steatite pots were prob- 
ably the pillar of the daily sustenance of the Sheep 
Eaters. Meat or fish and water would form the 
base, but many other ingredients would change 
this basic soup into nutritious food. Wild onions 
(Allium sibiricum), wild carrots (Leptoaenia 
multifield), and wild turnips (Psoralea esculenta), 
for example, would add distinctive flavor when 
they were in season while pounded chokecherries 
(Prunus melanocarpa) and serviceberries 
(Amelanchier alnifolia) would add a different, 
sweeter taste when they were available. Soups 
were probably also thickened with a flour made 
by grinding the seeds from a variety of Chenopo- 
dium and Amaranth plants. 

Digging and processing roots of various 
plants was likely the most important source of 
plant food for the Sheep Eaters. There are mul- 
tiple species and subspecies of plants like bitter- 
root (Lewisia rediviva), balsamroot (Balsamorhiza 
sp.), biscuitroot (Lomatium sp.), yampa (Carum 
gairdneri), camas (Camassi sp. ), sego lily 
(Calochortus nuttalli) and tobacco-root (Valeriana 
sp.) that could have been important sources of food 
for Indians in the Yellowstone National Park re- 
gion. When they were plentiful some of these roots 
were probably eaten raw with any excess dried in 
the sun, stored in hide bags, and reconstituted in 
soups. The dried roots were also ground into a 
mealy flour, mixed with water, and formed into 
flat cakes that were placed on hard wood trays or 
flat slabs of rock and set in the ashes of a fire to 
bake. The name biscuitroot is derived from these 
biscuit-like cakes that early trappers saw Indians 
preparing and eating (Range Plant Handbook 

1937:W55). Yampa is another root that was eaten 
in its raw form, boiled in soups, or dried and 
pounded into flour. 

Apparently the liking for bitterroot was an 
acquired taste, but it was highly sought and used 
by Indians and trappers alike. C. A. Geyer, who 
collected information on Indians' preparation and 
use of plants during a trip from Saint Louis, Mis- 
souri to the Pacific Ocean (across South Pass, 
Wyoming) in 1843 and 1844, writes: 

The root is dug during flower-time, when 
the cuticle is easily removed; by that it 
acquires a white colour, is brittle, and by 
transportation is broken into small pieces. 
Before boiling, it is steeped in water, which 
makes it swell, and after boiling it becomes 
five or six times larger in size; resembling 
a jelly like substance. As it is so small a 
root, it requires much labour to gather a 
sack, which commands generally the price 
of a good horse [Geyer 1 846 quoted in the 
Range Plant Handbook 1937:W105]. 

As Lewis and Clark (Coues 1965:111-543- 
544) describe the roots that were in the posses- 
sion of Shoshone (Lemhi) women in August, 1 805 : 

The roots were of three kinds, folded sepa- 
rately from one another in hides made of 
buffalo made into parchment. The first is 
a fusiform root six inches long, about the 
size of a man's finger at the largest end, 
with radicals larger than is usual in roots 
of the fusiform sort. The rind is white and 
thin; the body is also white, mealy, and 
easily reducible by pounding to a sub- 
stance resembling flour, which it thickens 
by boiling, and is of an agreeable flavor; 
it is eaten frequently in its raw state, ei- 
ther green or dried [Coues 1965:111-543]. 

The identification of this root is question- 
able but it may be a biscuitroot. It is probably not 
yampa, because Lewis and Clark were familiar 
with yampa having learned about it, including its 
Shoshone name, from their guide, Sacajawea. The 
second of the roots was described as fibrous with 
a cylindrical form. According to the Indians it was 
always boiled before eating; when Lewis and 
Clark tried this they learned that it readily soft- 
ened and could be eaten, but it had a bitter taste 
and was almost certainly bitterroot (Lewisia 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 143 

rediviva). The third root, a small tuber with a round 
shape and nutty flavor, was most likely sego lily. 

In addition to the parfleches or rawhide con- 
tainers described by Lewis and Clark, the Shos- 
hone had two bags made of silk-grass, derived 
from yucca, and presumably braided to make a 
strong fiber (Coues 1965:111-543). The bags were 
large, one holding about a bushel of dried service 
berries and the other about the same amount of 
dried roots. Because they are identified as "bags" 
they were apparently flexible, with an open weave, 
perhaps something like the fiber sacks used to 
package onions today. Lewis and Clark encoun- 
tered the mountain Shoshone with these supplies 
of dried roots and berries along the Jefferson River, 
about 85 kilometers (53 miles) northwest of Yel- 
lowstone National Park, in August of 1805. The 
plants were dug with elk antler tines or wooden 
sticks that had fire hardened ends. A cross piece, 
made of an antler, was sometimes fitted over the 
end and pushed with the hands to facilitate the 
digging. Their journals also mention several loca- 
tions in the vicinity where holes in the ground were 
left by Indians digging for roots. Almost certainly 
the Indians were collecting and drying the plants for 

To make them palatable several of these roots 
need to be baked. Foremost among these is ca- 
mas, a very important food plant in the region that 
was used extensively by the Plateau tribes (Down- 
ing and Furniss 1968; Malouf 1979) and when it 
was available by Great Basin tribes (Fowler 
1986:69). Tobacco-root (Valeriana sp.) also re- 
quires baking or some other cooking to make it 
edible. These baking pits were dug into the ground, 
often near the area where the roots were harvested, 
and a fire was set in the bottom. Their size depen- 
dant upon the amount of roots to be cooked, the 
pits were commonly one to two meters in diam- 
eter and dug to a depth of a half-meter. For cook- 
ing a layer of rocks was laid in the pit, heated with 
a fire, then covered with a layer of moist vegeta- 
tion, perhaps intermixed with damp earth. The 
roots were placed on top of this heated surface, 
and the whole was capped with more vegetation 
and earth. A fire was then built on the top of the 
underground oven and kept burning for the two 
or three days that the roots were roasting. 

Other plants, including roots, nuts, berries 

and seeds which were eaten raw or dried without 
additional processing, would add significantly to 
the larder. As for a paramount tuber resource, ca- 
mas, we are reserving Chapter 5 for a synthesis of 
our data on this staple. Combining all this infor- 
mation on edible plants, however, it is easier to 
appreciate their probable role in the food supply of 
hunting and gathering groups like Sheep Eaters. 

Dwellings of the Sheep Eaters 

The largest, most obvious indicators of In- 
dian occupation in Yellowstone National Park are 
the remains of their houses. Standing mute and 
skeletal, those few conical timbered lodges that 
have withstood the ravages of fires, windstorms, 
bugs and vandals seem to evoke a special sympa- 
thy. Perhaps that is because we know that in these 
camping spots other living and breathing human 
beings socialized, worked, ate, argued, told sto- 
ries, loved, slept and planned their days. As to the 
exact origins and ethnic identification of these 
buildings that acquired the Algonkian language 
term of wickiups, however, there has been some 

After 1 750 when horses were in general use 
throughout the Plains, the Crow, the Blackfeet. 
the Shoshone and the Bannock built conical- 
shaped, hide-covered tipis as their preferred dwell- 
ings. But their long lodgepole pine frames and 
weighty hide covers required horses to transport 
them; lacking horses the Sheep Eaters were not 
able to transport such heavy houses. Instead, they 
lived in semi-permanent shelters or temporary 
houses which, from their scanty remains, seem to 
be of three kinds. The first type of impermanent 
shelters were made by leaning timber poles into 
conical-shaped structures, the aforementioned 
wickiups. The second form of structure was built 
inside a rockshelter and featured poles leaning 
against a crude frame which backed up against 
the rear of a cave wall. A third building type was 
made by stacking deadfall-timber into cribbed 
walls with four or five sides that stood about five 
feet in height. 

Because all northwestern Plains tribes made 
both the conical and cribwork shelters, it is ex- 
ceedingly difficult to differentiate their use by one 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

tribe from another; hence, when an archaeologist 
finds these temporary dwellings they are custom- 
arily assigned to the cultural groups closest to their 
location (Kidwell 1968, 1969; Loendorf and 
Klinner 1995; Frison 1991:122-127; Larson and 
Kornfeld 1994:204-205). To be sure, artifacts 
found at the sites may be a more reliable indicator 
of cultural use, but these are often problematic. 
Given the usual association based on proximity, 
it is interesting that in the opinion of Aubrey 
Haines, the wickiups found within Yellowstone 
National Park were not the work of Sheep Eaters. 
Instead, he reports that: 

George Bird Grinnell long ago identified 
the Yellowstone wickiups as Crow hunt- 
ing lodges, and Dr. Malouf recently came 
to the same conclusion as a result of his 
archaeological investigations, which 
showed only a very transient use and none 
of the household debris that would have 
remained from even a seasonal use by 
Sheepeaters [Haines 1977:25]. 

To identify the wickiups as Crow, Haines 
uses a letter written by Grinnell to Phillip 
Martindale, a park ranger, in 1927 ( Martindale 
1927:4). Grinnell suggested the wickiups were 
made by hunting and raiding groups who built 
them with poles that stood close together to con- 
ceal fires. The Malouf reference stems from work 
undertaken as part of a preliminary archaeologi- 
cal survey in the park, which occurred prior to the 
research of Jake Hoffman and Dee Taylor. Yet 
when Hoffman reviewed the evidence collected 
by Philetus Norris regarding these structures, he 
(1961:39) assigned the wickiups to the Sheep Eat- 
ers (1961:39). Hoffman may have been wise not to 
take the work of the park's second superintendent 
lightly, for as already mentioned, Norris was ex- 
tremely interested in archaeology, sent collections 
of artifacts from the park to the Smithsonian In- 
stitution, and drafted maps of several archaeologi- 
cal sites in the park. In Norris' view both the 
cribbed-style dwellings and the conical wickiups 
were clearly the work of Sheep Eaters. According 
to his annual reports, Norris reached this conclu- 
sion after considerable discussion with others 
while visiting the sites, and it still seems presump- 
tuous to question this conclusion some 125 years 
later. And a principal consultant to Ake Hultkrantz 

was of like mind: were the diameters of park 
wickiups once larger when they were brand new, 
and were they made by Piegans?, Hultkrantz asked 
Jack Haynes: 

Yes the wickiups in the park had consid- 
erably wider bases originally. I doubt they 
are Piegan. They were identified as 
Sheepeater as early as the 1870's [Jack E. 
Haynes to Ake Hultkrantz, January 6, 

Research among the Shoshone Indians, in- 
cluding inquiries made of Sheep Eater descen- 
dants, reveal ample knowledge of these very house 
types. From the Northern Shoshone, for example, 
Robert Lowie ( 1909: 1 83) learned that before they 
used hide tipis they lived in small, conical-shaped 
dwellings made of timber and covered with brush. 
In fact the crudity of these dwellings led to out- 
siders referring in sign language to the Shoshone 
as "Bad Lodges" (Lowie 1909:183; Clark 
1885:337). When the Wind River Shoshone de- 
scribed these shelters to Lowie they said they were 
both grass-and-brush covered, stood seven to eight 
feet high, faced east, and that inside there were no 
fixed seating assignments (Lowie 1924:221). 
Among the Northern Shoshone Murphy and Mur- 
phy (1986:294) obtained a photograph of one 
taken circa 1900, which was made of interwoven 
rushes and willows on a conical frame, and iden- 
tified as a "summer tipi." Without the brush cov- 
ering, it would look almost identical to the coni- 
cal-shaped wickiups found in the park. 

More recent interviews of the Shoshone also 
tie the park wickiups to the Sheep Eaters. When 
David Dominick (1964:163) interviewed Wind 
River Shoshone consultants they claimed that the 
conical wickiup remains were the work of both 
Plains Shoshone and Sheep Eaters. But more than 
one claimed that the mountain-dwelling Sheep 
Eaters laid more tightly fitted poles into the cone 
so that they were "waterproof," and added that 
they sheltered one or two families (Dominick 

While some of these timbered shelters may 
have been used by the Crow, the foregoing dis- 
cussion makes a strong case that most of the coni- 
cal wickiups and other pole dwellings in Yellow- 
stone National Park were the work of the park's 
more permanent residents, the Sheep Eaters. 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 145 

Figure 3.11. Scholar 

Ake Hultkrantz at 

Sheeppater Cliffs, July 

1994 (author photo). 

1. Wickiups. Since the creation of Yellow- 
stone National Park in 1872 dozens of wickiup sites 
have come to light. Hardly an annual report of 
Superintendent Norris neglected to comment on 
the abundant wickiups in the "sheltered glens and 
valleys" of the park. 

In his report for 1 880, for example, Norris 
(1880a:7) describes a Sheep Eater camping spot 
on the divide between Hoodoo Creek and Miller 
Creek where a single wickiup stood among the 
remains of more than forty others which had col- 
lapsed. According to Jack Haynes, this site was 
still visible in 1924: 

In the fall of 1924 in company with Su- 
perintendent Horace M. Albright, Samuel 
T. Woodring, chief ranger, and Ed Bruce I 
saw a large, ancient Indian camp ground 
northeast of Parker Peak across the gully 
between there and Hoodoo Peak. It was 
on the bank, sheltered by the southern 
ridge and about 1/4 mile west of the rim 
of the gully. The area consisting of three 
or four acres was covered with tepee 
poles — hundreds of them — flanked at the 
west by a grove [of] aspen trees [Jack E. 
Haynes to Ake Hultkrantz, October 23. 

Haynes believed that this was the largest site 

in the park. Actually his father, Frank Jay Haynes, 
had already seen it in 1 894 in the company of act- 
ing Superintendent Captain George S. Anderson 
and scout George Whittaker. But Frank Haynes 
failed to indicate whether any of the wickiups were 
standing at the time (Jack E. Haynes to Ake Hult- 
krantz, Ocotber 23, 1955). When Stuart W. 
Conner, Kenneth J. Feyhl, and Dan Martin vis- 
ited this region in 1977, they recorded a site known 
as the Parker Peak site, 48YE506, but they did 
not encounter any evidence of fallen wickiups. It 
seems quite probable that the collapsed poles had 
decayed and decomposed in their relatively wet 
environment. None the less, the record of this site 
attests to the popularity of freestanding wickiups 
as Sheep Eater houses, especially in the summer- 

The remains of dwellings in Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park whose claim to Sheep Eater manufac- 
ture seems clearest are the conical-shaped pole 
structures a short hike off the Mammoth-to-Tower 
road. Recognized for more than a century and as- 
signed site number 48YE2, these structures stand 
relatively close to the road between Mammoth Hot 
Springs and Tower Falls in a location near the park 
headquarters, where they have received consider- 
able attention (Norris 1 880b: 10-11; Replogle 
1 956; Hoffman 1 96 1 :35-40: Shippee 1 97 1 :74- 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

75; Haines 1977:24—25). A series of picture post 
cards were made of the structures circa AD 1900 
by an unidentified photographer. According to a 
letter from Jack Haynes written to park Superin- 
tendent Rogers in 1940, in 1905 his mother, Lily 
V. Haynes, provided the following caption for one 
of those cards: 

Tepees put there by Indians forty years 
ago. Near 3 mi. post on way to E. Gar- 
diner Falls. Papa saw them years ago (3 of 
them) thought they had been torn down. 
Hunter found them early this year. Are 74 
mile E. of road [L. Haynes 1905 in J. 
Haynes 1940]. 

This pictorial collection includes two views 
of unidentified hunters holding an elk head in front 
of the most prominent wickiup and separate views 
of two of the wickiups standing alone. One image 
reveals a third wickiup barely visible to the rear 
of a prominent one. Based on an estimated height 
of 5.5 feet for the hunters themselves, the promi- 
nent wickiup appears to be standing about 12 feet 

Another photograph showing two wickiup 
structures and dated 1915 is found in the F. J. 
Haynes collection with the caption "Indian tepees 
(aspen) above road east of Sheepeater Canyon 
Bridge. YNP." When Stuart Conner (1994) com- 
pared this photograph to ones he has of the site 
taken in 1937, 1963, 1964, and 1991 in order to 
be certain it was the Lava Creek site, 48YE2, he 
noted that the photograph was from a glass plate 
in the F. J. Haynes collection at the Montana His- 
torical Society, but that the photographer was un- 
known. When the scene was photographed at least 
a decade after the post card series, the site showed 
little change. 

When he was working for the Smithsonian 
Institution River Basin Survey, J. M. Shippee 
(1971) twice saw this site, in 1947 and 1950. Dur- 
ing his first visit three structures were standing 
and a fourth was collapsed. The upright structures 
had inside height measurements of about nine feet 
and base diameters of fourteen feet, the poles were 
fir with a basal thickness of 2 to 3.5 inches, and 
fifty-five of them were counted in one structure 
while another had sixty-five in its walls. Shippee 

All four wikiups had small shallow fire- 
places at their centers. In one fireplace, an 
obsidian spall was found. Obsidian flakes 
also occurred in the cutbank of the high- 
way, but around the lodges the litter of the 
forest floor hid all camp debris except for 
several large leg bones of animals [Shippee 

The Shippee notes represent the first system- 
atic attempt to describe the size and character of 
these wickiups. It is noteworthy that this record- 
ing did not take place until nearly a century after 
Superintendent Norris described the site in his 
annual report of 1880. In 1958, eleven years after 
Shippee's first visit, Jake Hoffman (1961) re- 
corded the site and found two standing and two 
collapsed wickiups, all arranged in an arc with 
the open side facing downhill to the northwest. 
According to Hoffman the wood was both aspen 
and lodgepole pine, with the poles measuring 
about four inches in diameter. The largest stand- 
ing wickiup was twelve feet in height, with an el- 
lipsoidal base which measured six-by-ten feet; the 
smaller standing structure measured ten feet in 
height with circular base diameter of eight feet. 
Discussing their interior features Hoffman wrote: 

The center of each wickiup floor (stand- 
ing and fallen) has been dug out by un- 
known persons. However, stones and char- 
coal still left inside the wickiups reveal the 
presence of true hearths. We recovered 
several large pieces of elk bone consist- 
ing of a femur, vertebrae and scapula from 
inside the wickiups. No other occupational 
debris lay within the wickiups, but we 
found small amounts of obsidian 25 yards 
north of the structures within the sites area 
[Hoffman 1961:38]. 

The "animal" bones mentioned by Shippee 
are probably the elk remains identified by 
Hoffman. But they are not necessarily contempo- 
raneous with the wickiups since the bones may 
be from the trophy elk shown with hunters in the 
early picture postcard. Then Hoffman spotted a 
single large pole resting on top of the wickiup's 
other crossed poles, and concluded that its weight 
"exerted at the poles' common focus creates a 
downward force and increases the stability of the 
shelter's framework" (Hoffman 1961:36). Using 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 147 

a pole weight across the top of the structures is 
reminiscent of the long pole used in the construc- 
tion of the Sheep Eater dwelling in the cave on 
Big Sheep Creek. 

Site-24YE301 is another wickiup site found 
in the extreme northwest corner of the park. Origi- 
nally described by Wayne Replogle (1956 ) in his 
discourse on the Bannock trail system, the site was 
officially recorded by L. Kyle Napton who was 
completing archaeological survey in the region to 
the west and north of Yellowstone National Park 
for a master's thesis at Montana State University, 
Missoula (Napton 1966). Napton's research was 
coordinated with the larger archaeological recon- 
naissance the University was undertaking through- 
out Yellowstone National Park, and included ar- 
eas along the Gallatin River Canyon that are within 
the park (Napton 1966). Three wickiups are re- 
ported at the site but when Napton visited the site 
in 1958, only one of the wickiups, Structure Two, 
the largest of the three, was standing. Napton tells 
us that when his parents photographed the 
wickiups in 1938 all three were standing, thus two 
had clearly collapsed in the intervening twenty 
years. Curiously, two years after Napton's work 
Stuart Conner visited the site and found two 
wickiups standing. Apparently some unknown 
person reconstructed one of the collapsed wickiups 
but never reported their effort to the park (Conner 
1960). The reconstructed wickiup has collapsed 
again this time due to a nearby tree falling on it. 
Today only Structure Two, the largest of the origi- 
nal group, remains standing. 

This lone erect wickiup is made of 130 as- 
pen poles ranging in diameter from one to four 
inches, some apparently cut with an iron ax and 
others gathered from deadfall timber. The poles 
were stacked in a conical form and, using Stuart 
Conner's measurements, it was ten feet in diam- 
eter, stood twelve feet on the outside, with an in- 
terior height of six feet. But the poles had slumped 
some, suggesting it may have once been a foot 
higher inside (Conner 1960). Napton learned dur- 
ing excavation that the base of the poles had actu- 
ally rotted into the topsoil reducing their overall 
length by about eight inches which would have 
decreased both the height and the diameter of the 
structure by several feet. The other wickiups were 
smaller and composed of seventy-five aspen poles. 

Napton ( 1 966: 141) excavated into the floor 
of Structure Two and into the probable occupa- 
tion area adjacent to the collapsed Structure Three. 
A large fire hearth, found centered inside Struc- 
ture Two, was contained in a shallow basin that 
had apparently been prepared before the fire was 
set into it. Fill in this feature included ash, char- 
coal and burned bits of bone, but unfortunately 
these bone scraps were not readily identifiable as 
to what animals they represented. Napton also 
found twenty-five chert flakes, one black obsid- 
ian flake and twelve cobblestones averaging five 
to six inches in width and three inches in thick- 
ness arranged about eight inches apart around part 
of the inner perimeter wall of the structure. The 
function of the stones is not known but we might 
guess they may have held the base of a hide lin- 
ing attached to the inside of the structure that 
served as additional protection from the wind and 
weather capable of penetrating the walls. The oc- 
cupation area of Structure Three contained only a 
single quartzite flake. 

Napton (1966: 1 37) also recorded 24GA325, 
another wickiup site with two collapsed structures, 
located in the Gallatin River area a few miles west 
of Yellowstone National Park. In 1940, a large pine 
tree fell on the structures knocking them both 
down, but one of these wickiups was once a stately 
example of this house type. It was composed of 
100 lodgepole pines with some exceeding 6 inches 
in diameter at their bases. It would have stood 
more than ten feet high inside and had an interior 
floor greater than fifteen feet in diameter. The other 
structure was much smaller, and in this regard it 
reflects the pattern of 24YE301 where one large 
structure is found with smaller ones. While 
Napton did not excavate into the areas around the 
structures at 24GA325 but based on the work at 
24YE301 we might also guess that the larger struc- 
tures served as the "cook tent" with the occupants 
cooking and sleeping around the central fire while 
the smaller structures were used for storage, or 
some other function. The absence of fire remains 
in the smaller ones indicates they did not need 
warming fires if they served as sleeping "tents." 
This would not be surprising, however, since the 
wickiup-type structures are believed to have been 
predominantly occupied during the summertime. 
Winter houses were more likely built of poles stacked 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

against the walls of rockshelters or of deadfall tim- 
ber laid into horizontally stacked tiers. 

2. Timber-Pole Houses. A second type of 
Sheep Eater shelter is the so-called timber-pole 
house, which is found in caves and rockshelters 
throughout their territory. In smaller caves they 
are constructed with walls of rocks and timber 
across the openings, while in larger caves or 
rockshelters they are made by stacking timber, 
brush and rocks against the rear walls. A probable 
Sheep Eater structure of this variety was discov- 
ered in the mountainous terrain of southwestern 
Montana (Davis 1975). It stood within a limestone 
cave on a tree-covered slope at 7,400 feet eleva- 
tion, in Big Sheep Creek Canyon at the southern 
end of the Tendoy Mountains which rise about 93 
miles west of Yellowstone National Park. 

Known today as Wickiup Cave, 24BE601, 
the structure was built of timbers, branches, pine 
boughs and rocks. Its main frame was two long 
poles that were braced against the rockshelter's 
back wall, which were supported by a forked, 
upright post. More than thirty timber poles leaned 
against this framework so as to enclose a semicir- 
cular area seventeen feet in diameter and ten feet 
high. Many of the poles had burnt ends, suggest- 
ing they were felled or cut to length with fire. For 
added protection smaller tree branches and pine 
boughs were interwoven into walls, while around 
the exterior sides a rock wall was constructed by 
stacking limestone blocks to a height of two feet, 
with a break for an entry way (Davis 1975:298-299) 

In its prime the timber-pole house fit tightly 
against the rear wall, with rock walls snugly flank- 
ing it on the sides. The natural rock ceiling af- 
forded protection from snow and rain while the 
woven branch and pine bough walls deterred the 
wind and cold. Inside lay a four-by-eight foot bed, 
outlined with rocks and mattressed with pine 
boughs and giant wild rye grass. Although archae- 
ologists found no interior fire hearth, the site had 
been disturbed by relic hunters who may have 
destroyed the cooking remains. The estimated date 
for this structure was most likely circa AD 1850, 
but the discovery of a square nail, an unidentifi- 
able metal fragment, and a hammered lead pen- 
dant suggest that the cave had also seen human 
use in the protohistoric period, in the years after 
AD 1700. 

Unfortunately vandals had scattered nearly 
all the artifacts from the site, but archaeologist 
Carl Davis tracked many of them down and was 
able to reconstruct a representative inventory 
(Davis 1975:301-302) of some thirty small trian- 
gular arrow points, a few with side-notches, oth- 
ers with side and base-notches, and a collection 
of simple triangular points lacking notches. Al- 
though its shaft was broken, one of those points 
was tied by wrapped sinew to an arrow fragment. 
Other pieces of shaft, smoothed from cottonwood 
and elm, exhibited narrowed ends and presum- 
ably were the main bodies of compound arrows 
whose points, as described earlier, were attached 
to hollow reeds and fitted over the narrow tenon. 
One arrow piece even retained a feather, attached 
with sinew, about four inches below the nock end, 
and although it was not identifiable, other bits of 
feather fletching were identified as blue grouse 
and sage grouse (Davis 1975:301). 

In the assemblage were also chipped stone 
artifacts for cutting, scraping and drilling. One 
long and narrow blade, shaped like a willow leaf 
and measuring 17 cm (6.7 inches) in length by 4 
cm (1.6 inches) in width, was a typical Shoshone 
knife which had been extensively re-sharpened. 
There were also two bone awls, one made from a 
splinter of straight bone shaft, the other from the 
scapulae of an unidentifiable mammal. Under the 
mattress of rye grass and pine bough matting two 
beads were recovered, presumably carved from 
bird bone. 

In addition the Wickiup Cave site yielded 
more than 100 ceramic sherds, only two of which 
remained for Davis to identify as "undecorated 
Intermountain," a ware typically associated with 
Shoshones of Wyoming and Idaho. The relic col- 
lectors indicated that they had found them beneath 
the cave floor, but the disturbance from illegal 
digging was so great that the exact placement of 
the pottery in the deposits could not be determined 
(Davis 1975:301). Since this Intermountain Tra- 
dition pottery has recently been recognized as 
having far greater antiquity than previously be- 
lieved (Torgler 1995:98), it is possible the ceram- 
ics represent a still earlier cultural use of the 

From the trapper Alexander Ross there is an 
early description of the use by "mountain Shos- 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 


hone" of such caves. Describing the different In- 
dians that inhabit the mountainous region sur- 
rounding Yellowstone National Park, Ross iden- 
tifies one group as the Ban-at-tees, or "mountain 
Snakes" who: a predatory and wandering life in 
the recesses of the mountains, and are 
found in small bands or single wigwams 
among the caverns and rocks [Ross 


According to Davis, these Ban-at-tees or 
"mountain Snakes" are thought to be the Sheep 
Eaters and this reference to their "wigwams among 
the caverns" suggests houses constructed in caves 
(Davis 1975). Much like the Big Sheep Creek ex- 
ample, timber lodges constructed within caves 
may have been a preferred seasonal type of lodg- 
ing for the Sheep Eaters. Yellowstone National 
Park Superintendent Norris (1880b:35) mentions 
Sheep Eater occupation of caves but does not de- 
scribe houses in them. Hikers and tourists have 
reportedly stumbled upon similar-sounding struc- 
tures in Yellowstone National Park (Aubrey 
Haines interview 3/14/94), but unfortunately none 
have been recorded. Haines ( 1 977:24) has pointed 
out that one advantage of pole lodges in caves is 
that fires built against the back wall of the cave 
would radiate heat. While this may have been a 
factor in cold weather, during the warmer months 
and when they were traveling in areas which 
lacked these overhangs, Sheep Eaters undoubtedly 
sought shelter in other types of housing. 

3. Cribbed Log Structure. The third type of 
Sheep Eater shelter is a crib-style timber struc- 
ture, which was probably once abundant in Yel- 
lowstone National Park. Their construction in- 
volved stacking horizontal layers of timber, usu- 
ally deadfall trees, into cribbed layers to a height 
of five or six feet. Resembling small forts or rudi- 
mentary versions of the well-known Navajo cor- 
beled-log roofed house type called a hogan, they 
were built so that each successive course of roof 
logs was slightly smaller than the one below. De- 
spite their absence of roofs or doors, the examples 
which Norris ( 1 88 1 b:37) recorded in the park con- 
tained evidence of interior fires and split animal 
bones — strongly attesting to their role as habita- 

Although none of these structures were re- 

corded by park archaeologists, they are well- 
known from surrounding regions (Johnson et al 
1988; Loendorf and Klinner 1995). It is the view 
of Haines (1977:25) that they were the work of 
Flathead or other Salish tribesmen, but their dis- 
tribution does not support this contention, for they 
are far more common in eastern Montana than in 
the Salish territory to the west. In the canyons and 
hideaways of the Pryor Mountains, south of Bill- 
ings, for instance, they are found more commonly 
than any other form of timber structure by a ratio 
of 14 to 1 (Loendorf and Klinner 1995). The same 
goes for the Bull Mountains, near Roundup, Mon- 
tana, where we find a ratio of 10 of the cribbed- 
style to 1 of the conical variety (Johnson et al. 
1988:112). Yet, the possibility that this ratio is re- 
versed in the Absaroka Mountains, Little Belt 
Mountains, and the Snowy Mountains is referred 
to by Johnson etal. (1988:112-113). 

While such a distinct pattern strongly sug- 
gests a cultural preference for one variety of dwell- 
ing over another, there may be pragmatic consid- 
erations. Construction of the conical timbered type 
requires straight and relatively long poles, for 
which pine or fir trees are far better suited than 
juniper. Also, the cribbed style may have been 
preferable for cold weather while the conical- 
shaped wickiups seem to have been a more tem- 
perate shelter. When compared to the Snowy and 
Absaroka mountains, the lower elevations of the 
Pryor Mountains and Bull Mountains may have 
been more conducive to winter travel and even 
occupation. Norris himself proposed that the 
cribbed style was the winter house of choice for 
Sheep Eaters in Yellowstone National Park be- 
cause they are found: the thickest borders of warm, sheltered 
valleys, where abundant timber of the de- 
caying wind-falls, in which they are al- 
ways found, could be liberally used in an 
inclosure so large as to not take fire, while 
it was a protection against the cold, even 
if, without being wholly or in part cov- 
ered with the skins of animals [Norris 

Because sizeable numbers of both conical 
wickiups and crib style housetypes are reported 
for Yellowstone National Park, Norris' explana- 
tion seems most reasonable. To summarize, we 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

do have a speculative picture of Sheep Eater ar- 
chitecture, in which (a) the wickiup structures, 
such as those formerly standing on the divide be- 
tween Miller Creek and Hoodoo Creek, were most 
likely used in summertime, while (b) the 
rockshelters featuring their leaning pole structures 
were probably candidates for high elevation win- 
ter use, and (c) the cribbed style of shelter would 
most likely have been built and used in the lower 
valleys during the colder months. 

Sheep Eater Social 
and Political Life 

How did the Sheep Eaters organize their in- 
terpersonal existence? How did they govern them- 
selves; how did they reach decisions concerning 
when and where to hunt; did they have leaders 
and how did they select them; how did they choose 
their husbands and wives; how did they resolve 
quarrels among themselves; how did they relate 
to outsiders? And how can we possibly answer 
any of these questions? 

The difficulties of making the circumstan- 
tial case we have attempted in the foregoing re- 
construction of the technological achievements 
and food-gathering strategies of Sheep Eaters are 
only compounded when we try to submit some 
picture of their nonmaterial beliefs and practices. 
There is no getting around the fact that we have 
very few recorded accounts revealing their social 
structure and political organization. Even after his 
interviews with elder Sheep Eaters in the late 1940s 
and 50s, Ake Hultkrantz lamented the fact that he 
still had few facts regarding Sheep Eater 
sociopolitical customs. To fill the gap he believed 
it was necessary to extrapolate from information 
obtained from neighboring Plains Shoshone (Hult- 
krantz n.d. 1:59). In the following discussion, we 
have added to his information from the writings 
of Robert Lowie (1909, 1924); Julian Steward 
(1938, 1970), Demitri Shimkin (1947a, 1947b) 
and Carling Malouf (1966), with supporting ma- 
terial from trappers' and explorers' journals. But 
in most cases we have had to reconstruct 
sociopolitical patterns through materials obtained 
from other Shoshone groups, an extrapolation 
which may not be as risky as one might believe, 

for as Julian Steward reminds us: 

A very fundamental feature of Basin-Pla- 
teau society is the remarkable absence of 
any traditional institutions other than the 
nuclear families. There were no men's ini- 
tiations or secret societies, no marriage- 
regulating clans, moieties, segments or lin- 
eages, no age grade or women's societies, 
and no ceremonials, recreational activities, 
or warfare that united all members of what 
were later called "bands" [Steward 

Steward's negative checklist is probably of 
considerable relevance to the sociopolitical orga- 
nization of those close cousins to the Basin-Pla- 
teau Shoshoneans with whom we are concerned, 
the Sheep Eaters. Certainly the most applicable 
feature of his characterization is the fact that Sheep 
Eater society was also founded upon the native 
nuclear family — father, mother, a grandparent or 
two and immediate offspring. Two or three of these 
related families might join together for weeks at a 
time during their annual food pursuits, and even 
more might convene for their periodic use of large 
sheep traps. But generally these groups did not 
rely upon help from secondary sources, except 
when a lone shaman or medicine man was needed 
in the event of illness or stress. 

In the day-to-day activities of any Sheep 
Eater encampment, the clearest social distinction 
visible to any outsider would have been the sexual 
division of labor. Men hunted and fished, women 
gathered tubers, seeds and berries. Since plants 
were a significant part of Shoshone diet in the 
Great Basin, it was women who supplied as much 
as 75 percent of their food supply. But in the higher 
elevations, where sheep and fish were so abun- 
dant, this ratio dropped to about equal time de- 
voted to meat and fish, on the one hand, and to 
plant-foraging on the other. Yet this does not mean 
that men and women put the same amount of en- 
ergy into camp tasks, for women completed addi- 
tional chores such as preparing meals, working 
hides, drying fish and gathering wood in addition 
to their responsibility as primary caretakers of 
children. Men certainly had their gender-specific 
jobs, including the procurement of suitable stone 
and steatite, manufacturing finished tools from 
them, and crafting the specialized items such as 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 


horn bows. So even though most anthropologists 
might classify Sheep Eater society as "egalitar- 
ian" and lacking in class distinctions, in the final 
analysis the lioness's share of daily tasks prob- 
ably fell to the women. 

Lamentably, we know next to nothing about 
the inner, psychological and emotional aspects of 
Sheep Eater life. None of the ethnographers who 
were in a position to elicit a Sheep Eater "life his- 
tory" ever did so, and as we have explained in the 
introduction, the purported Sheep Eater "marriage 
ceremony" in the Allen book is patently absurd 
(Allen 1913:62-71). More likely, as judged by 
Hultkrantz, any marriage was sealed without a 
great ceremony. And based upon Shoshonean cus- 
toms in the Great Basin and the Plains, we might 
suspect that there was not even gift exchange to 
publicly formalize the union, although a young 
man who was considered a good hunter and pro- 
vider would certainly be highly valued by his new 

While the family unit was almost certainly 
the building block of Sheep Eater society, it was 
commonly augmented by a larger, loosely-knit 
amalgam of families. To characterize this work- 
ing cluster anthropologist Carling Malouf coined 
the useful term kin and clique (Malouf 1966:4— 
5). By this he connoted the primary subsistence, 
social and political unit of the Great Basin Shos- 
hone, which were composed of nuclear families 
who were linked by various combinations of blood 
relatives, in-laws and friends. In Malouf s con- 
cept, these kin and clique groups varied so greatly 
in size and composition from year to year that it 
is difficult to give them any firmer definition: 

There were no social compulsions which 
gave the kin and clique a permanent iden- 
tity. Friends, especially, were apt to change 
their affiliations for practical or emotional 
reasons. A quarrel or the prospects of a 
more favorite food quest in another area 
might entice some of the group away 
[Malouf 1966:4]. 

Not until the introduction of horses did the 
Shoshone transform some of these socially-fluid 
and highly-mobile kin and clique units into more 
permanent organized hunting bands (Steward 
1 970: 1 1 4- 1 1 6). Originally Julian Steward ( 1 938) 
assigned many northern Shoshone groups under 

the political designation of "bands," but after more 
comparative research was available on hunters and 
gatherers throughout North America and the world 
he changed his mind and suggested that bands 
were so variable that his own term had lost much 
of its definitional value (Steward 1970:115). This 
debate about "bands" aside, the Sheep Eaters, who 
never possessed horses, do not appear to have felt 
the practical, diplomatic or social need to orga- 
nize themselves beyond the level of something like 
a kin and clique. 

As far as selecting leaders was concerned, it 
was probably repeatedly successful hunters, or 
charismatic individuals who got along with ev- 
erybody — or were able to intimidate them — who 
initiated decisions regarding the movement of 
Sheep Eater camps. While these leaders were of- 
ten as not males, the women undoubtedly played 
a significant role in scheduling and guiding the 
foraging parties in their search for vital plant 
staples like camas and biscuitroot. At all times, 
we can guess that consensus was a desired ideal. 
Malouf offers this description of the inner work- 
ings of a kin and clique: 

Politically the kin and clique group was 
basically democratic. An informal coun- 
cil of adults made the decisions. Men of 
good reputation for knowledge or strength, 
or persons with potent shamanistic pow- 
ers were consulted or even asked to lead a 
temporary drive, a gathering venture, or a 
ceremony, but there office was not perma- 
nent. Some older persons were regarded 
as important to the kin and clique because 
of their knowledge of places where plant 
and animal foods could be found, but they 
never held a place of prestige [Malouf 

Basing our assumption upon the practices 
of generally equivalent Great Basin groups, we 
suspect that any quarrels between individuals out- 
side the nuclear family were easily adjudicated, 
since the disputing party simply moved apart to 
align with another kin and clique. But arguments 
within the immediate family were probably not 
so easily resolved. Separation was an option and 
certainly after children reached an age where they 
could travel on their own they were free to join 
relatives elsewhere. 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

We recall that the Sheep Eaters encountered 
by Osborne Russell in Yellowstone National Park 
in July of 1835 included six men, seven women, 
and eight or ten children (Haines 1965:26). This 
would have been a plausible size for a kin and 
clique in midsummer, when there was no reason 
to have extra hands for hunting or processing meat. 
At least three or four of the men and women were 
probably married, and one or two of the men may 
have had more than one wife. Again relying on 
the Shimkin research among Plains Shoshone, the 
other adults in the group possibly included an aged 
female relative or a divorced woman who was 
cared for by the group, and two or three unmar- 
ried but related males. Of course it is also quite 

likely that the group visiting Russell included more 
than a single family, converging for this special 
occasion out of a sense of curiosity and the op- 
portunity to trade with the trappers. 

In contrast to the smaller band met by Rus- 
sell, a large gathering of sixty Sheep Eaters feasted 
and traded with a party of trappers in 1866 near 
the head of the Greybull River, "Squaws, dogs, 
papooses and all. they was all loaded down with 
skins and furs, besides a large Jackass loaded down 
to the guards and the only animal these beings 
possessed" (Henderson 1866:20). Their size sug- 
gests that this meeting occurred around the time 
of a communal hunting episode, perhaps just as 
the Sheep Eaters were emerging from the moun- 

Figure 3.12. Which 
Sheep Eaters are they ? 
Exhibit on Yellowstone 
Park 's Sheep Eaters in 
Albright Visitor 
Center, employing 
cutout photo from 
taken by William 
Henry Jackson along 
Idaho 's Medicine 
Lodge Creek, more 
than one hundred 
miles to the southwest 
of West Yellowstone in 
1871 (Photo courtesy 
of Yellowstone 
National Park 
Archives, Catalog 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 153 

tains for trading or hunting. The fact that 
Henderson's description took place thirty-six years 
after the Russell encounter may also signify some 
acculturation that led to a change in group dynam- 
ics and practices, underscored by mention of the 
"Jackass" or mule. Still and all, the picture of such 
a large kin and clique group laden with furs to 
trade suggests they were successfully inhabiting 
their mountain homes. 

Descriptions of trading between Sheep Eat- 
ers and trappers can also offer oblique insights 
into social customs. In these dealings, according 
to Russell, the Indians simply threw their tanned 
hides and skins on the ground, as if ready to ac- 
cept whatever the trappers thought was a fair price. 
From their exchange with Henderson somewhat 
later we get the more explicit impression of inno- 
cent Sheep Eaters ripe for the picking. To better 
understand the Indians' negotiating posture, how- 
ever, we should probably explore such economic 
transactions from the native viewpoint. Probably 
their asking for a "fair price" was an overture to 
what is identified by economic anthropologists as 
a form of "balanced [if delayed] reciprocity," in 
which parties to such a transaction are expected 
to honor debts at a later date. As we might easily 
understand from the combinations of people in 
their kin and clique relationships, in Sheep Eater 
reckoning such a debt would be honored in a time 
of need. In more direct language, when a Sheep 
Eater tossed his tanned skins on the ground and 
the trader returned items deemed of lesser value, 
it meant that when his family found themselves 
without food in the next year, he could then rely 
upon the trader, the person he still had in his debt. 
Trade to a Sheep Eater was probably never a quick 
and fast "done deal;" instead, as a more drawn- 
out engagement between parties, it thus created 
important social and political bonds. Trading times 
were an opportunity for all kinds of social busi- 
ness to take place, a time for meeting new people, 
and even when cross-cultural engagements might 
be intimidating to the individuals involved, trade 
offered a mutual language for human interac- 
tion, an opportunity for exchange of news and 
input of fresh ideas. 

In this regard it is important to recognize that 
the Sheep Eaters were historically noted for their 
trade engagements. Trade to the east was with the 

Plains Shoshone while to the west it was with other 
Shoshone and the Nez Perce and Flathead. Horn 
bows, obsidian preforms, tailored clothing, and 
sheep and elk hides were the most common items 
that Sheep Eaters brought to a trading rendezvous, 
while they sought marine shells, bison robes, salt, 
seeds, roots, salmon and dried crickets (Shimkin 
1947a:269-270; Steward 1938:203; Lowie 
1909:191; Dominick 1964:155). Although the 
Sheep Eaters did not trade for horses, the value of 
various items was usually reckoned in horses, and 
in the mid 1800s, Lowie (1909:191) tells us, the 
10 sheep skins or two bearskins were worth one 
horse, while Jack Contor learned that a sheep horn 
bow was worth five to ten horses (Dominick 
1964: 156). Foremost among the park's trade com- 
modities, of course, was obsidian, the use and 
importance of which has already been discussed. 

Sheep Eater World-View 
and Religion 

Most of the earlier 20th century scholars who 
conducted ethnographic fieldwork among the host 
reservations where remnants of the park-dwell- 
ing Sheep Eaters found refuge did not make an 
effort to elicit whatever diagnostic data might set 
them apart from the Wind River or the Lemhi 
Shoshones. Thanks to the notable exception of the 
historian of religion, Ake Hultkrantz, however, we 
have a little better handle on the conceptual life 
of these "elusive" mountain people than we do of 
their socio-political organization. But in striving 
to sort out what made the Sheep Eater cultural 
inheritance unique, Hultkrantz had to peer through 
"the common religions pattern on the [Wind River] 
reservation" (Hultkrantz n.d. 11:9). 

During his fieldwork in the 1940s and 50s, 
Hultkrantz tried to locate every elder of Sheep 
Eater ancestry he could find. But he also talked 
with the knowledgeable, conservative Shoshone 
medicine people whose houses clustered around 
the Sage Creek corner of the Wind River Reser- 
vation as he sought to construct "a theoretical pat- 
tern, a structure in which the fragmentary facts 
[of Sheep Eater beliefs] find their natural place" 
(Hultkrantz n.d. 11:9). For Hultkrantz, a fundamen- 
tal dimension of such a pattern was "ecology," a 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

concept whose influence he explained at the out- 
set of his unpublished manuscript on Sheep Eater 
lifeways and religion: 

There are three steps in the ecologist's in- 
vestigation. First, he analyzes the interre- 
lationship of exploitative or productive 
technology and environment. Second, he 
investigates the behavior patterns associ- 
ated with this technology. Third, he tries 
to find out to what extent these behavior 
patterns affect other aspects of culture, 
such as society and religion. 

The religio-ecological approach proceeds 
from these premises [Hultkrantz n.d. 

This quote also helps to clarify the concep- 
tual framework that organizes many of his fol- 
lowing glimpses into the Sheep Eater belief sys- 
tem. Although Hultkrantz' data may be skewed in 
favor of this outlook, his fieldwork, scattered 
throughout his publications and an unpublished 
and unedited notebook manuscript [referred to as 
Hultkrantz n.d. II], remains the best we have on 
this topic. 

1. World View, Cosmology and Sacred Ge- 
ography. In his unpublished notes on Sheep Eater 
religion, Hultkrantz opened with a sketch of their 
world-view and its basic principles. First was the 
important clarification that while the Sheep Eat- 
ers lived in both the supernatural and natural 

A conscious distinction between them was 
never made, at least not verbally. Some of 
the phenomena of the supernatural world 
belonged to the diffuse upper part of the 
world, the sky; or they were just as distant 
by belonging to the remote past, the days 
of Coyote and his associates, or they rep- 
resented a different existence, the afterlife 
[Hultkrantz n.d. 11:22]. 

A trinity of sorts occupied the highest, most 
generalized tier of Sheep Eater cosmology. All of 
Hultkrantz' Sheep Eater consultants were unani- 
mous in their conviction that Tarn Apo, or "our 
father," was a pre-Christian concept. But the Sun 
also figured in a supreme position. As to the rela- 
tionship between them, one of his informants tried 
to explain: 

We pray to Our Father, not to the Sun, al- 
though we direct the prayers to the Sun. 
We thank the Father for our lives, and for 
the fact that the sun shines over us. We do 
not pray every day facing the Sun, only at 
certain occasions, for instance, at the Sun 
Dance. Memories from the past indicated 
that we have never prayed to any other 
being than the Father above (tarn pa ant) 
and the Sun. The father has created the 
Sun; Sun is a superior being, therefore we 
pray both to the Sun and to the Father 
[Hultkrantz n.d. 11:60]. 

In his commentary on these remarks, Hult- 
krantz said that what at first seems contradictory 
can be explained by the fact that when Sheep Eat- 
ers prayed they often actually faced the Sun, which 
was at once the symbol for our Father (also called 
oyo k tarn nuywonaip, or "all us people he made") 
and was "a divine being in its own right" (Hult- 
krantz n.d. 11:60). At the same time, some of his 
Indian friends also cited the importance of the third 
semi-divine character, Coyote, or tzi isapo. Al- 
though they admitted that he had assisted Our 
Father in creating life on earth, one Sheep Eater 
woman added, "Coyote is a treacherous animal, 
he even tried to copulate with his mother and his 
daughter" (Hultkrantz n.d. 11:63). Thus we have 
Coyote appearing here in Sheep Eater conceptions 
in his time-honored, cross-tribal multifaceted role 
as creator and transformer as well as transgressor 
(See Bright 1993 for a full treatment of Coyote's 
multiple personalities). 

But most of the other spirits known to the 
Sheep Eaters were more down-to-earth entities, 
who constantly interfered or assisted with their 
hopes and dreams. In the religious consciousness 
of the Sheep Eaters Hultkrantz saw some distinc- 
tions. There were the beings associated with the 
"diffuse" and "superior" supernatural world 
whom they invoked in times of peril or during 
story-telling or in meditation. Then there was an 
"inferior" domain of spirits, closer at hand, a pos- 
sible source of supernatural assistance or of im- 
mediate danger, and yet somewhat more suscep- 
tible to human supplication and manipulation. 

According to Hultkrantz, the "scene of the 
interaction" between Sheep Eaters and their spir- 
its was the "wooded mountain areas of the Yel- 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 155 

lowstone Park, the Absarokas, the Wind River 
Mountains and, possibly, the Big Horn Mountains" 
(Hultkrantz n.d. 11:22, emphasis ours). This was 
the landscape which, to the medicine men with 
whom Hultkrantz interacted, was "by definition 
the home country of the spirits" (Hultkrantz n.d. 
11:22). Of all the guardian spirits available to hu- 
man beings, they said, the power [pukka or puha) 
known specifically as "mountain-medicine" 
(toyawo) was the strongest and most dangerous, 
and a Sun Dance leader, his closest Wind River 
Shoshone consultant, added: 

The fellow who wants it has to bathe, paint 
himself, make cedar smoke, smoke to- 
bacco and pray. He may pray in any lan- 
guage, like pukka understands all kinds of 
languages. He must be alone, he is with- 
out the help of the medicine-man. Now, 
pukka has drawn its signs on the rocks, 
and in tall trees — you can see them drawn 
in the bark high up on the trees of the 
mountain areas. There are many rock- 
drawings in the mountains round about 
[the Wind River Valley] where you can 
seek pukka. One place is just under the 
Teton peak, another north of the hot 
springs in Yellowstone Park, close to the 
boundary line to Montana [Hultkrantz n.d. 

Some of Hultkrantz' Sheep Eater informants 
refined this notion by saying that the spirits with- 
drew into the mountains during the summer but 
returned to the rock drawings in lower altitudes 
in September, when the weather turned cold (Hult- 
krantz n.d. 11:46). In a sense, then, the movements 
of spirits paralleled those of the Sheep Eaters, 
many of whom passed their summers in the moun- 
tains and spent much of the rest of the year in the 
Wind River country. Hultkrantz explained this 
"spirit nomadism" by recalling that, in older days, 
summer was the only proper time for receiving 
the power-visions at the rock drawings, through 
the practice known as puhawilo, or "sleeping at 
medicine-rock" (Hultkrantz n.d. 11:23, 46, 49, 50). 
Because the rock drawings are all at lower eleva- 
tions, this suggests that late summer, theyuvai mua 
or elk breeding month of late September and Oc- 
tober, would have been a prime time for the vi- 
sion-seeking ritual. 

Hultkrantz was also told that it was actually 

within the mountains that the spirits lived. One 
Sheep Eater claimed to have entered a peak be- 
hind Bull Lake (known to the Wind River Shos- 
hone as "water buffalo lake" and a special haunt 
of water spirits, whose buffalo-like sounds can be 
heard in the spring when the ice cracks [Hult- 
krantz, in Earhart 1993:293]) which is located in 
the northern Wind River Mountains. The spirits 
had invited him there to play the hand game with 
them (Hultkrantz n.d. 11:23-24). When Hultkrantz 
wanted to know if the Sheep Eaters considered 
their hunting grounds "sacred," he could find no 
satisfactory equivalent in the Shoshonean vocabu- 
lary. Their closest term was igaunt, which meant 
"full of wonder," and referred less to the sanctity 
of place than to the efficacy of supernatural pow- 
ers who lived there (Hultkrantz n.d. 11:25). 

Rock-drawing places were definitely igaunt. 
in part because they were considered evidence of 
the work of sacred lightning, or eygagu ce, "red 
light." Hultkrantz was able to visit such places 
throughout Sheep Eater territory — at Dinwoody 
Lake, different points along the North Fork of the 
Popo Agie River, "Washakie's meadows" west of 
Fort Washakie, the South Fork Canyon of the Little 
Wind River, the Sage Creek foothills and Medi- 
cine Butte, sites in the Owl Creek Mountains, on 
the slopes of the Absarokas and in the Tetons. 

2. Souls, Spiritual Guardians and Spirits. 
Hultkrantz's inquiries also delved into the un- 
charted terrain of Sheep Eater ontology. He learned 
that each Sheep Eater possessed at least three types 
of "soul." First was the snap, or "ego-soul." which 
was embodied by one's breath. Second, they also 
had a closely related "free-soul," or navushieip, 
the soul which might abandon the body during 
dreams, trances and comas. During a particularly 
powerful dream of this kind, known as 
puhanavuzieip, one also might be receptive to the 
appearance of a guardian spirit who would remain 
an ally throughout one's life. Thirdly there was 
the "body-soul," or mugua, which activated the 
body during one's waking hours. Hultkrantz "s 
Sheep Eater informants likened this third soul to 
a thin but strong thread, and one said it was situ- 
ated "between the eyebrows. Breath is a part of 
mugua. The heart keeps you alive; it stops, mugua 
leaves the body [through the top of the head], only 
skin and bones remain" (Hultkrantz n.d. 11:35). 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Even though Hultkrantz found it more diffi- 
cult to obtain stories of Sheep Eater vision quests 
than he had among the Wind River Shoshone, "the 
tradition of vision quest" among them was still 
alive, although it was hard to find out about them 
"perhaps because some would-be medicine men 
secretly practice spirit seeking, perhaps because 
medicine-men have done so in recent times" (Hult- 
krantz n.d. 11:50). Their visions might earn men 
the power of invulnerability; such was the conse- 
quence of a power-dream which was received by 
a Sheep Eater in which he shot at three bears in 
his dream, only to have the bullets twist like mud 
clots in their fur. Thereafter he believed he had 
acquired that power of self-protection as well. 

Sheep Eaters sought their visions through a 
process which was not radically different from 
their Plains and eastern Basin-Plateau neighbors. 
According to Hultkrantz, the pattern went as fol- 

There is the frightening trial, the manifes- 
tation of the spirits who tends to change 
forms — now a man, now an animal -, the 

Figure 3.13. Rock art image identified as 
Shoshonean spirit known as Water Ghost Woman 
(Drawing by Linda A. Olson). 

imparting of supernatural power, the con- 
ditions for the ownership of this power, 
and the regulations concerning ritual para- 
phernalia [Hultkrantz n.d. 11:51]. 

The category of spirits which might become 
allied to Sheep Eaters through such life-changing 
experiences were what Hultkrantz called "particu- 
lar nature types, such as the water spirits." Lakes, 
rivers, springs and thermal pools were all poten- 
tial locations for this group of spirits who pos- 
sessed great supernatural power, with which the 
Sheep Eaters sometimes transacted for good or 
ill. Hultkrantz took pains to distinguish these spir- 
its from the spirits which are "associated with the 
dangerous places — mountains tops, geysers," su- 
pernatural beings that he believed usually played 
little role as guardian spirits. Although under ex- 
traordinary circumstances, it appears some of the 
following generally malevolent beings might be 
associated with an especially powerful medicine 

1. pa:unha — these were evil "children of the 
water," or "water babies," who lived in 
creeks, rivers and lakes. 

2. pandzoavits — these were large, tough- 
skinned "water ghosts," ogres who occupied 
lakes and hot springs and drowned people 
so as to eat them. 

3 pa:waip — a female "water ghost" whose 
special prey were men. 

4. tundzoavits — this "rocky-skinned ghost" 
also belonged to the "water" spectre cat- 
egory; his body was made of stone with the 
exception of soft face and hands. 

5 . tundzoavaip — the "stone ghost woman," fe- 
male counterpart of the above, who had a 
reputation for snatching babies. 

Another group of supernaturals were the 
mischievous or evil spirits who hovered around 
human habitations. However Hultkrantz confessed 
that he often found it difficult to clearly differen- 
tiate between what he called the 1) "pedagogic 
ficts," or frightening spirits that figured in stories 
told children so as to make them behave; the 2) 
"true spirits" which haunted and even hurt adults; 
and the 3) "ghost" spirits of the living dead. The 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 157 

following is a partial list of the second group of 
"true spirits" whom Sheep Eaters identified for 

1 . wokaimumbic — a giant, cannibalistic owl. It 
talks and behaves like a human being, but 
resembles an enormous butterfly. It grabs 
children, flies away with them, and then eats 

2. toxabit narukumb — an evil spirit of the 
night, who may have been identical to the 
owl, and whose shrieking sounds, "tchi-tchi- 
tchi-tchi," terrify people. 

3. nimrika — dangerous ogre-like spirits who 
are often difficult to distinguish from human 
beings, except that they eat human flesh and 
live in old-style brush houses. Unlike the 
fearsome owls, they can bestow power on 

4. ninimbi — spiritually powerful, usually in- 
visible "little people" who are often associ- 
ated with the Sheep Eater homelands in the 
mountains. Prominent in Sheep Eater reli- 
gious thought, humans can help them and 

Lastly, there was that third group of spirits, 
the ubiquitous dzoap, or "living ghosts," who 
might brush up against the living without warn- 
ing. As one of Hultkrantz' Sheep Eaters informants 
recalled such an encounter: 

I have heard that almost every day the spir- 
its of the dead are around us. The ghosts 
who walk round appear as whirlwinds. Not 
long ago I and some other women met a 
whirlwind, and one of these women got 
angry and threw a slur towards it. The 
whirlwind turned and went against her, 
destroyed her tent into pieces and broke 
her leg. That was three years ago [1945]. 
Thai woman is still alive [Hultkrantz n.d. 

3. Individual Curing and Group Ceremo- 
nies. The oldest and most common form of inter- 
action between Sheep Eaters and their supernatu- 
ral realm may have been more individual than 
collective. The mediator of this relationship was 
generally a medicine-man, or puhagant, who was 

known to have a powerful puha (or pukka), and 
who used that dream-derived power to heal or 
harm. Possessing a lesser power might grant one 
a "gift," such as the ability to outrun deer, but it 
did not qualify one as a medicine-man who could 
effect a cure or have an impact upon the natural 
world. That required the level of power you only 
received in a power-dream. 

There were two primary techniques by which 
Sheep Eater healers cured an illness. If they de- 
termined that someone was sick because their soul 
had fled, the medicine-man put himself into a 
trance to search for the "fugitive soul," hopefully 
restoring it to the body and their patient to health. 
But if the ailment was revealed as coming from 
an object having been "shot" or inserted into the 
patient's body through witchcraft or a malicious 
spirit, then the medicine man's job was to suck or 
blow out the infecting object. But some Sheep 
Eater medicine-men possessed other specialized 
powers as well — to charm game, cause storms, 
induce rain and so forth. Unfortunately, the few 
purported examples of Sheep Eater oral tradition 
that might tell us more about their supernatural 
practices appear to be unauthentic (Allen 1913), 
and little has come down to us regarding the ca- 
reers of their medicine men. 

When it came to discussing any collective 
rituals of the Sheep Eaters Hultkrantz admitted 
he was dealing with "very brittle" documentation. 
Relying on comparative material from neighbor- 
ing Shoshone groups, Hultkrantz pieced together 
a case for the so-called Father dance as having 
been their one-time annual ceremony. This appears 
to have been an older form of the "round dance" 
known in Shoshone as naraya ndo narayar, liter- 
ally "shuffling sideways," and which Shimkin 
identified as one of the special dances of the moun- 
tain Sheep Eaters (Shimkin 1937). And that sug- 
gests that Sheep Eaters, whose descendants acted 
as consultants for both Shimkin and 
ethnomusicologist Judith Vander, were in part, at 
least, responsible for the Naraya, also referred to 
as the later Ghost Dance, the Shoshonean rendi- 
tion of the revitalization movement whose intense 
focus was to reverse the order of the world in the 
Indians' favor once again. As late as 1927. Yel- 
lowstone National Park officials conveyed the 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

U.S. government's general attitude towards this 
ritual: "The Ghost Dance is more recent [than the 
Sun Dance] and far more dangerous from a disci- 
plinarian point of view" (Phillips 1927:35). Yet 
despite this negative attitude, the Shoshones man- 
aged to retain the song literature from their unique, 
Great Basin form of Ghost Dance (as differenti- 
ated from the Plains form) on the Wind River 
Reservation into the mid-20th century (for exhaus- 
tive analysis on this Shoshonean Ghost Dance and 
its Great Basin origins, see Vander 1997). 

The Wind River Shoshone told Hultkrantz 
that the oldtime "round dance" existed "way back 
when Coyote was ruling the world." But the older 
form of the round dance was known as apo noka, 
or the "Father Dance." During his early fieldwork 
on the Wind River Reservation in 1912, the name 
of "Father Dance" was explained to Robert Lowie. 
As ethnomusicologist Judith Vander (1997) has 
pointed out, Lowie's comment indicates a close 
relationship between the Father Dance and the 
Naraya as well as the almost multiple-personality 
relationship between Coyote as Creator and Fa- 

After the Father (a'po) had created the 
world, there was a man with his wife and 
two children. Coyote came along and said, 
"I am your father and made all these hills 
and trees. Now I will give you this a 'po 
noqa." [a 'po, father; noqa, dance] So he 
taught them the na'roya dance. Coyote 
was merely fooling the people [Lowie 

From Hultkrantz's description this ceremony 
sounds like a grander version of the category of 
foragers' celebration which anthropologists some- 
times call a First Fruits ritual, the expression of 
collective gratitude for the seasonal availability 
of a primary, natural food source. Directed by a 
shaman, the Shoshone of Grouse Creek in Utah 
staged such a thanksgiving dance when the first 
pine nuts were ready for picking. They then 
thanked apo, the Father, setting aside some pine- 
nut mush for him. According to Shimkin, it took 
place at night in fall, winter and spring, and both 
men and women joined in as sacred songs were 
sung (Shimkin 1986:325). 

After the introduction of the Sun Dance from 

the Comanche — also known as "Standing Alone 
in Thirst" — this earlier round dance appears to 
have been demoted in importance for most Plains 
Shoshoneans. As the Sheep Eaters drew closer for 
comfort and protection to their lowland cousins, 
Hultkrantz speculated that their version of this 
annual thanksgiving ritual was gradually replaced 
by first the Shoshone-style Sun Dance and then 
subsequently by the Ghost Dance. According to 
one of Hultkrantz's female Sheep Eater consult- 
ants, the Sheep Eaters staged their first Sun Dance 
with the Bannock in the Jackson Hole country 
sometime before 1 896 (where they also remem- 
bered the Plains Shoshone holding theirs — Hult- 
krantz 1956:187). They emphasized that the cer- 
emony was held in the mountains, and that they 
sang the same songs as were heard at regular Shos- 
hone Sun Dances. 

Interestingly, however, in retrospect the 
Sheep Eater consultants who talked with Hult- 
krantz claimed an independent origin for their own 
particular Sun Dance. The rite seems to have first 
gained currency in Sheep Eater culture after the 
turn of the 19th century. As one Sheep Eater de- 
scendant told Hultkrantz: 

According to what we have learnt from the 
old timers we did not get the Sun Dance 
from any other tribe. It happened this way. 
Many years ago there appeared a Shoshoni 
warrior. He had left his people [for some 
time]. During the night he rested on a hill, 
and the Father appeared to him in a vision 
and instructed him to go back to his people 
and to build a round enclosure [ i.e., the 
Sun Dance lodge]. He should tell the 
people to go there, to dance and to pray. 
Those who believed in the Dance would 
be cured from diseases [Hultkrantz n.d. 

In this chapter we have attempted to inter- 
weave direct, indirect and circumstantial informa- 
tion on the life-ways of the Sheep Eaters. But the 
foregoing profile must be regarded as only an 
unfinished, interim contextualization of their cul- 
tural world. We earnestly hope that one result of 
this report will be a revived effort to search out 

Chapter 3. Residents in the Highlands: Sheep Eater 159 

more data and sources on these high-altitude 
dwellers, to produce more imaginative ways to 
compile and cross-reference the available infor- 
mation, and to keep improving our knowledge of 
the sole Indian group who are generally acknowl- 
edged, even by park officials, to have been "the 
only permanent residents of the Park" (Phillips 

We recognize that this overview has com- 
mitted two already criticized sins of representa- 
tion where Indians are concerned. First, we have 
been obliged to take a largely ahistorical "snap- 
shot" of Sheep Eater life, casting them in a time- 

less amber. Second, since we have no full-bodied 
ethnographies or life histories of Sheep Eater life 
in the mountains, to some degree we have adopted 
a "trait list" approach to diagnostic aspects of their 
largely material cultural life. We hope the new, 
unpublished material from Hultkrantz on religion 
and world-view, almost certainly the last of its 
kind, has offset our inevitable reliance on this cul- 
tural inventory. By picking up the Sheep Eater 
chronicle in a more historical context in Chap- 
ter 5 we will add the dimensions of social and po- 
litical change to their story. 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Visitors on the West: 
Shoshone, Bannock and 

Nez Pierce 

These final two chapters cover other branches 
from the Shoshonean Indian family tree. Abutting 
the Yellowstone Plateau on the west, in present- 
day Idaho lived semi-nomadic bands of Northern 
Shoshoneans. Their modern representatives, along 
with the Bannock tribe and Sheep Eater descen- 
dants from the Snake River region, dwell today 
on the 544,000-acre Fort Hall Indian reservation 
about a hundred miles southwest of the park's West 
Entrance. This chapter focuses on them. Along the 

southeastern flank of the plateau, in today's west- 
ern Wyoming, lived other groups known as East- 
ern Shoshone, who were consolidated along with 
Sheep Eater remnants within the Wind River Res- 
ervation. They are featured in the next chapter. 

Reconstructing the interconnected culture- 
histories of these groups has taxed the 
ethnohistorical skills of notable scholars: Demitri 
Shimkin, Julian H. Steward, Omer C. Stewart, 
Sven Liljeblad, Ake Hultkrantz and Deward E. 

Figure 4.1. Northern Shoshone and Bannock at opening of the West Entrance (Courtesy of Yellowstone National 
Park Archives 1925, Catalog #YELL 372450). 

Chapter 4. Shoshone. Bannock and Nez Perce 161 

Walker Jr., among others. As they learned the hard 
way, anyone tracing the range of Shoshonean 
socio-political worlds and their micro-adaptations 
to different habitats should always clarify where 
and when any cultural or historical description is 
situated. We must pose the where question because 
a prime feature of the fluid, mobile, small-scale 
nature of their pre-horse way of life was its adapt- 
ability to its natural surroundings. For any given 
native group, the habitat for a primary food 
source — seeds, fish or small mammals, etc. — 
could determine the relative size of a band, their 
migratory patterns and their tool inventory. Being 
so responsive to their environment, it is not sur- 
prising to learn of their custom of naming groups 
by their dominant food supply, as already men- 
tioned (Walker 1993b: 1 4 1 ). At first the list of food- 
named groups or "hunting districts" by which these 
Shoshoneans are distinguished — Jack Rabbit Eat- 
ers, Salmon Eaters, Ground Hog Eaters, Yampa 
Eaters and the like — sounds suspiciously like a 
non-Indian's shorthand for identifying a bewilder- 
ing medley of local Indians. But apparently this 
pattern was an indigenous tradition, since when 
the Shoshones first encountered the Peyote reli- 
gion, for instance, they dubbed it Wogwedika, or 
"Peyote Eaters," and when the ritual fell under 
defamation as being a drug cult, they upgraded 
the name to Natsundika, or "Medicine Eaters" 
(Vander 1986:68). 

The where question is bound up with the 
when question. After the adoption of horses in the 
late 1700s the socio-political constitution of these 
eastern Great Basin and southern Plateau Indians 
underwent dramatic revision. Once groups of 
Northern and Eastern Shoshoneans were no longer 
on foot, their lifestyle grew similar to that of Plains 
Indians like the Crow and Cheyenne in northeast- 
ern Wyoming's Bighorn mountain country. Yet 
some of their Shoshonean cousins in south-cen- 
tral Idaho, northern Utah and eastern Oregon con- 
tinued to subsist on rabbit-hunting, fishing and 
gathering seeds, nuts, roots and berries. Accord- 
ing to Omer C. Stewart, the liberation from hav- 
ing one's survival constrained by local food sup- 
plies, plus the sudden access to war booty and sur- 
plus game, produced new class, age and even per- 
sonality divisions within the Northern Shoshone 
world — as highly intelligent or charismatic lead- 

ers acsended into chiefly prominence (Stewart 
1965:4). Some fringe bands or elderly people may 
have stuck with seed-and-root gathering and hunt- 
ing for smaller, burrowing mammals. But the ma- 
jority now reveled in their new equestrian lifestyle. 
To complicate this picture, other Shoshoneans de- 
veloped what might be termed "seasonal identi- 
ties," alternating at different times of year between 
the buffalo-hunting and ground-foraging ways of 
life. All this dynamic, rapid change testifies to the 
urgency of answering the when question whenever 
scrutinizing data on these peoples, since their be- 
haviors and appearances might differ considerably, 
even from one decade to the next. 

While this chapter deals with Shoshoneans 
who pressed upon Yellowstone National Park from 
the west, we must also include the Bannock, an 
offshoot of the Northern Paiute world who hailed 
from the Snake River and Blue Mountain area in 
eastern Oregon and whose fortunes joined forces 
with these northern Shoshones from the early 1700s 
onward. Due to unusual historical factors, this 
chapter covers a Columbia River Indian people as 
well, the Sahaptian-speaking Nez Perce. Although 
the Yellowstone Plateau lay somewhat beyond 
their cultural hearth, Nez Perce hunters and raid- 
ers freely criss-crossed the region in the early days. 
But a key phase of the tribe's dramatic bid for free- 
dom, which transpired in Yellowstone National 
Park only five years after its establishment, would 
make an indelible stamp upon the park's relations 
with Indians down to the present day. 

Trails into Yellowstone 
National Park from the West 

From the rim of the Yellowstone caldera you 
gaze west across the grey-green tree cover of the 
geologically younger Madison Plateau and notice 
how the gradually-sloping country grows progres- 
sively drier — down to an average rainfall of under 
fifteen inches a year. And descending from the 
western side of the Yellowstone Plateau you can- 
not miss the emerging features of the Columbia 
Plateau physiographic province. Stands of lodge- 
pole pine give way to forests of fir and wind-beaten 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

aspens, which in turn are replaced by stunted juni- 
per before leveling out into low brush and spotty 
grasslands. Away from the river valleys, the bro- 
ken landscape can appear quite inhospitable, with 
erodible slopes and an extremely rocky surface es- 
pecially where the Snake River courses deeply 
through the broken-up lavabeds as it heads for the 
Columbia River. 

At one time the carpet of grasses were thick 
here and supported the migrating buffalo that 
grazed up the Lemhi Valley and upper Snake River 
region, and which were pursued by Indians all the 
way into present-day Montana until the mid-19th 
century. But today sagebrush has come to domi- 
nate the landscape. Yet this is a also a region whose 
valleys then and now supported a host of edible 
roots. As one moves northward from the Great 
Basin pinyon-nut region and into the Columbia 
Plateau proper, the primary native food supply was 
the all-important camas, along with other tubers 
which provided sustenance for most of these west- 
ern peoples, as will be described in the following 

Even before entering the Madison River Val- 
ley that provides a principle westerly portal into 
Yellowstone National Park, one has traversed In- 
dian-occupied country of considerable antiquity. 
In recent years the windswept, arid flats of south- 
eastern Idaho are revealing evidence of dense na- 
tive occupation over a considerable time-depth. 
Within the sprawling lava plateau are such recently 
discovered sites as Scaredy Cat Cave, which, it is 
hypothesized, was utilized by early Shoshoneans 
or their forbears as a meat locker for possibly 4,000 
years. In this dark cool natural chamber, located 
only about 150 miles southwest of the park's West 
Entrance, Bureau of Land Management archaeolo- 
gists have turned up old picks made from elk ant- 
lers which may have been used to dislodge the 
stored bison meat from the ice, decaying remains 
of sagebrush stalks which probably helped to in- 
sulate the food stores, and fragments of woven 
baskets and broken stone pestles (Twin Falls, 
Idaho: The Times-News, Sunday, September 15, 
1996, p. 1). 

About fifty miles closer to West Yellowstone 
and more directly on the Snake River corridor that 
led many Shoshoneans to the Yellowstone is the 
region's archaeological counterpart to the spec- 

tacular Mummy Cave site, just east of the park. 
As already described in the last chapter, we are 
speaking here of the Wahmuza site, one of a clus- 
ter of early Numic sites that archaeologist Rich- 
ard Holmer has been investigating since the 1980s 
in the bottomlands near today's Fort Hall Indian 
Reservation. The great time-depth of the site which 
Holmer named Wahmuza — from the Shoshone 
word for "Cedar Point" — made it promise a simi- 
lar sort of long-term record of material culture 
change among Yellowstone National Park-con- 
nected Indians to the west that Mummy Cave had 
revealed for the east (Holmer 1990). 

But the reconstruction of eastern Great Ba- 
sin precontact history is by no means complete. It 
will be some time before we can synthesize a full 
picture of aboriginal movements along the west- 
ern boundary of Yellowstone National Park. To 
glimpse those movements today we may be on 
firmer ground if we follow the tracks left by his- 
torical Indians, always keeping an eye open for 
signs that they, too, might have been traveling in 
the paths of their own or other ancestors. All around 
the park, as already observed in earlier chapters, 
were old trails that led Indians to various, familiar 
locations within, through and around the park. 
Hints of the presence of such well-worn pathways 
come from the faint remains of what appear to be 
trail cairns or rock piles (Chittenden 1964:14) 
which may have guided travelers along the way. 
Blaze marks on trees probably prevented early 
Indian wayfarers from making disastrous wrong 
turns in the road. The comments of early trappers 
and explorers frequently refer to this or that "old 
Indian trail" they ran across; Chittenden's early 
history of the park is replete with such comments, 
such as the important trail "in the vicinity of Conant 
Creek leading from the Upper Snake Valley to that 
of Henry Fork" (Chittenden 1964: 12). While "Bea- 
ver Dick" Leigh apparently named the creek for a 
white man who almost died there (Urbanek 
1988:43), it was familiar enough to the mixed- 
blood Indian boys who accompanied Ferdinand 
V Hayden's 1872 trip into Yellowstone that they 
were able to provide Sidford Hamp with its 
(untranslated) Indian name: pom-pya-mena creek 
(Brayer 1942:273). 

For the most part the early exclusion of Indi- 
ans from the park seems to have left present-day 

Chapter 4. Shoshone, Bannock and Nez Perce 163 

Figure 4.2. Sequence of artifact 
types at Wahmuza site to west 
of Yellowstone National Park. 


m CD 

2 Q 

-r 2000 



1500-- 500 

2000 --0 




Spear Points 

75 CO 


? 9 


2500 — 500 

3000 -- 1000 

3500 -i- 1500 03 



Arrow Points 



at a 
c o 
c c 
Q- il 
</> 0) 

to t 
o o 






c o 


d) (1) 

(1) CD 






0) (D 

■g n 

■ « 

■I w w ._ 




I E 

1 I- 

1-1 </) 


i 8 

Shoshone or Bannock consultants with few sur- 
viving memories of the precise topographical 
routes used by their ancestors — or else they prefer 
to keep such information to themselves. And 
searching for mention of these century-old trails 
in the documentary record is tricky because inevi- 
tably one tends to privilege the best-known path- 
ways of the late historical period. Thus, when the 
historian Aubrey L. Haines attempted to recon- 
struct from his array of old government reports, 
explorers' diaries and trappers' journals the sys- 
tem of old Indian trails into and out of the park 
area (see map of Indian trails on page 33), because 

of its historical importance during the Nez Perce 
War he felt compelled to highlight the Bannock 
Trail as the park's preeminent native roadway, ac- 
knowledging that, "Essentially, the Bannock Trail 
was a system of trailways, which, together, made 
up a complex route" (Haines 1964:7). 

Yet in aboriginal days this now-famous 
Bannock Trail complex may not have experienced 
any greater quantity of foot traffic than other na- 
tive roadways in the region. As to their presence 
over a considerable time-depth, a strong piece of 
circumstantial evidence comes from what we 
might infer from early obsidian trade, which even 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

includes hints at the directional flow of such com- 
merce, as summarized most recently by Leslie B. 
Davis and his study group: 

The mechanisms by which obsidian was 
translocated from the Obsidian Cliff pla- 
teau source to geographically distant des- 
tinations are not known. Overland trans- 
port along trails or over water are usually 
suggested. That the Yellowstone River 
would have been the gateway or passage- 
way is likely, with continuation via one or 
more exchange events to a downstream 
corridor (or corridors) leading to the Mis- 
sissippi. Obsidian may have been traded 
'utilizing a generalized regional exchange 
system involving trading partners' (Ander- 
son et al. 1986). To date, materials ex- 
changed or traded for the obsidian which 
are known to be diagnostic for Hopewell, 
i.e, Snyders points and Havana Ware, have 
not been found in the Yellowstone drain- 
age, on the Obsidian Cliff plateau, or in 
the vicinity (Holmes 1903 to the contrary). 
That void may reflect the transfer of ob- 
sidian from the source eastward by indig- 

enous peoples who quarried it and trans- 
ferred it to the middlemen. 

Or Hopewellian traders went to the quar- 
ries and in a single procurement event, ac- 
quired sufficient obsidian to meet their 
needs (Griffin 1965). . .The 300 kg (6601bs) 
of obsidian found cached at the Hopewell 
site, for example, attests to the importance, 
value, and energy involved in moving this 
high density raw material over distances, 
in this case over more than 680 km (1500 
mi) [Davis et. al. 1995:57]. 

The likelihood of such long-distance trade 
would also testify to the probable Indian aware- 
ness, via oral traditions, of the intervening topog- 
raphy, and to the existence of a repeatedly-used 
trail system. As Chittenden describes the density 
of such aboriginal park pathways, he opens with 
two lesser-known routes before addressing the 
more renowned west-to-east Bannock road: 

Indian trails, though generally indistinct, 
were every-where found by the early ex- 
plorers, mostly on lines since occupied by 


Scale of MUh 

Bannock Trail Route ^— * 
Connecting Trailways 

Figure 4.3. Map of Bannock Indian Trail and associated hunting areas (Map by Aubrey L. Haines, from his The 
Bannock Indian Trail, Yellowstone Library and Museum Association, 1964. Pp. 4-5). 

Chapter 4. Shoshone, Bannock and Nez Perce 165 

the tourist routes [which would also have 
contributed to the obliteration of their 
traces]. One of these followed the Yellow- 
stone Valley entirely across the Park from 
north to south. It divided at Yellowstone 
Lake, the principal branch following the 
east shore, cross Two-Ocean-Pass, and in- 
tersecting a great trail which connected the 
Snake and Wind River valleys. The other 
branch passed along the west shore of the 
lake and over the divide to the valleys of 
Snake River and Jackson Lake. This trail 
was intersected by an important one in the 
vicinity of Conant Creek leading from the 
Upper Snake Valley to that of Henry Fork. 
Other intersecting trails connected the Yel- 
lowstone River trail with the Madison and 
Firehole basins on the west and with the 
Bighorn Valley on the east [Chittenden 

Of all the numerous Indian pathways that 
threaded over the Yellowstone Plateau from all 
sides, it still remains the Bannock Trail, cutting 
across the 200-mile width of the park from Henry 
Lake to the Shoshone River, which has captured 
the imagination of historians and Indian buffs alike. 
For western Indians it possessed the practical vir- 
tues of steering clear of dangerous Blackfeet coun- 
try, offering open, grassy oases dark with mean- 
dering buffalo, and its linkage of valleys and climb- 
overs promised the smoothest traveling to be ex- 
pected in such a mountainous region. To outsid- 
ers, however, its fame undoubtedly derived from 
its prominent role during the Nez Perce "war" of 
1877, and because some of its overgrown furrows, 
originally gouged by generations of tipi poles tied 
to the flanks of Indian ponies with their ends drag- 
ging along the ground, can be detected to this very 

A fairly comprehensive reconstruction of this 
Bannock trail is due to the work of park naturalist 
Wayne F. Replogle (and his wife Marian), who 
devoted eight years, from 1948 to 1956, to recon- 
structing the winding path followed by the 
Bannock Trail and its branches (Replogle 1956), 
and to park historian Aubrey L. Haines, who built 
upon Replogle's efforts eight years later. While 
Replogle's lengthy description is included in full 
in our Appendix E, since this thoroughfare has al- 
ways been one of the most historically notewor- 

thy ethnographic resources in the park, here we 
include Haines' more condensed account written 
in 1964: 

That portion of the Bannock Trail which 
lay across what is now Yellowstone Park 
can yet be traced on the ground almost 
throughout, and it will give a better idea of 
the nature of the route to trace it in detail. 
From the point near Horse Butte in the 
Madison Valley, where the main trail from 
the Camas Prairie, via Targhee Pass, was 
joined by branches up the Madison and 
Gallatin Rivers, the trail entered what is 
now the Park by way of the Duck Creek 
drainage, approximately ten miles north of 
West Yellowstone, Montana. It then fol- 
lowed the edge of the valley in a south- 
ward swinging arc almost to Cougar Creek, 
before doubling abruptly northward to pass 
over the Gallatin Range west of Mount 
Holmes, at an elevation of over 9,300 feet 
(2,750 feet of climb from Horse Butte). 
Once over the top. the trail followed down 
Indian Creek to its junction with the 
Gardner River, where there was a branch- 
ing; the main trail crossing Swan Lake Flat 
and descending through Snow Pass to the 
vicinity of the present Park headquarters 
at Mammoth, while a cut-off passed be- 
tween the Gardner River and Bunsen Peak 
to rejoin the main trail below the present 
high bridge over the Gardner. 

At Mammoth, near where the hydro-elec- 
tric powerhouse now stands, the main trail 
was joined by an Indian trail ascending the 
Gardner River from the Yellowstone (an 
exit which gave access to the buffalo range 
in the valley between Yankee Jim Canyon 
and Livingston, Montana.) 

Southeast of Mammoth, the trail crossed 
the Gardner River and ascended the east 
bank of Lava Creek to the vicinity of the 
present campground, then crossed Black- 
tail Deer Creek, where it was joined by two 
minor Indian trails, one from the mouth of 
the Gardner (later known as the "Turkey 
Pen Trail"), and one to the ford over the 
Yellowstone River below the mouth of 
Oxbow Creek. From the junction on Black- 
tail Deer Creek, the main trail continued 
across the high meadows to Crescent Hill, 


American Indians unci Yellowstone National Park 

which it rounded on the south side through 
a narrow ravine later designated as The 
Cut. Descending steeply to the site of 
Yancy's Ranch, the trail crossed Pleasant 
Valley to the Yellowstone River, and passed 
upstream, over the top of Overhanging 
Cliff to a crossing of Tower Creek at the 
present automobile campground. 

Where the trail crosses Antelope Creek, it 
is plainly visible from the road, and it was 
there joined by an Indian trail from the 
Canyon area, via the western flank of 
Mount Washburn. Continuing down the 
Yellowstone River, a crossing was made 
at the ford near what are now called the 
"Sulphur Beds". 

Once over the river, the trail climbed out 
of the canyon to enter the Lamar Valley 
through the "Horseshoe". From there the 
route held close to the foot of Speciman 
Ridge and Amethyst Mountain, branching 
off another minor Indian trail to the 
Stillwater and Rosebud Rivers by way of 
Slough Creek. At the mouth of Soda Butte 
Creek, the main trail itself branched; one 
fork passing the Clark Fork River by way 
of Soda Butte Creek, and the other reach- 
ing that river more directly by following 
up the divide between Cache and Calfee 
Creeks. An Indian trail from the Upper 
Lamar and Shoshone rivers joined the route 
at the mouth of Cache Creek [Haines 

One final topic connected with this western 
flank of the park and its old Indian trail system 
deserves mention. This is the relationship between 
Indians and fire, for anyone retracing the winding 
route of the historical Bannock Trail from west to 
east today runs headlong into the burnt-over coun- 
tryside around West Yellowstone, a grim reminder 
of the ravaging fires of summer 1988. Most ext 
ensive of the seven major burns which eventually 
burned nearly 800,000 acres of park ground cover 
was the North Fork blaze (Morrison 1993). A con- 
troversial dimension of Yellowstone National Park 
history and policy that seems associated with this 
western entryway to the park concerns the rela- 
tionship between humans and fire. Yet even be- 
fore that recent conflagration, some observers have 

sought to bring Indian data to bear on the debate 
over whether or not to "resume an ancient approach 
of using fire to accomplish multiple objectives" 
(Barrett and Arno 1982:650). 

Those advocating the environmental benefits 
of such man-made fires often point to evidence, 
especially strong for America's eastern woodlands 
(for useful summary of this material see Cronon 
1983) and for California (for comparative discus- 
sion on Indian fires among western Great Basin 
and Californian hunter-gatherers, see Blackburn 
and Anderson 1993), that the habitats encountered 
by the first Europeans had already undergone 
considerable alteration, much of it by fire (Pyne 
1982). Indeed there are arguments that intention- 
ally using fires to drive game into concentrated 
bunches for easier hunting — and perhaps to ex- 
pand rangeland for buffalo or to encourage the 
growth of browse to attract deer — occurred in and 
around Yellowstone National Park (Chase 

But opinions differ widely as to the utiliza- 
tion of fire by Indians in the park. It is fire ecolo- 
gist George Wuerthner's contention that: 

Though Indians occasionally passed 
through Yellowstone, and one small group 
called the Sheepeaters lived there year- 
round, it is uncertain how many fires they 
may have caused in the Yellowstone eco- 
system. Because of their overall low num- 
bers and the infrequency with which they 
passed through the area, the Indian influ- 
ence on fires [in the park] is likely to have 
been less than it was in other places, such 
as the Great Plains, for example 
[Wuerthner 1988:7]. 

This position seems premised on the lighter 
use of the park by Indians than that proposed by 
historian Mark Spence, who has recently suggested 
that, contrary to Wuerthner: 

Seasonal burns opened up broad savannas 
favored by ungulates, created 'open dis- 
tricts' in the forest that eased travel, and 
encouraged the growth of valued grasses, 
shrubs, and berries, and tubers. Smaller 
fires kept favored camping sites free of 
underbrush and insect pests and served as 
an important hunting tool. [Spence 

Chapter 4. Shoshone. Bannock and Nez Perce 167 

Figure 4.4. Park historian Wayne F. Replogle standing on remnants of Bannock Trail. Date and location 
unknown. (Photo courtesy of Yellowstone National Park Archives, Catalog #YELL 37838-] ). 

Direct evidence still remains too thin to make 
any solid case about the degree to which Yellow- 
stone National Park proper was subject to alter- 
ation by intentional Indian fires (Kay 1995). At the 
same time there is scattered, circumstantial data 
on the widespread practice of Indian-set fires, serv- 
ing multiple purposes, throughout the greater Yel- 
lowstone ecosystem. To the east, for instance, it 
was on August 23, 1805, while traveling west 
through the Beaverhead Valley, that Captain 
Meriwether Lewis weighted his canoes with rocks 
and dunked them in a pond to protect them from 
"the Fire that is Frequently kindled in these plains 
by the natives" (DeVoto 1953:222). 

To the west, the Nez Perce also significantly 
altered their regional environment this way, as 
anthropologist Alan G. Marshall writes: 

The use of fire by the Nez Perce to im- 
prove game habitats... was noted in 1900 
by John Leiberg, a forest ecologist. His 
studies of the Bitterroot Forest Reserve 

showed that two-thirds of it had been 
burned at least twice in the previous 150 
years. Nez Perces both then and in the 
present have maintained that such burning 
increases game populations, especially elk 
and deer. Thus, the very character of this 
region's forests was affected by the Nez 
Perce management practice. Fire was simi- 
larly used on the region's prairies; report- 
edly, camas meadows were also burned 
[Marshall 1991:171]. 

To the north, the Flathead. Pend d'Oreille and 
Kootenai habitually ignited the lichens hanging 
from trees so as to kill insects, halt the spread of 
tree diseases, help prevent the spread of wildfires 
and improve forage for grazing (Barrett 1980: 18). 
But apparently these particular Plateau peoples set 
their fires in an ad hoc, non-patterned way, or 
whenever their movements prompted them to clear 
trails, encourage the growth of browse for deer, 
elk and horses, as signals to communicate over 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

long distances, and even as a shamanic technique 
for influencing the weather — all of which, the In- 
dians maintain today, would simultaneously have 
bolstered the growth of pasturage for deer, elk and 
horses (Barrett 1980:19-20). 

Closer to the park's northern entrance, Lieu- 
tenant Gustavas C. Doane may have actually iden- 
tified a hunting method when he reported a fire in 
1870 along the Gardner River, with apparently 
multiple points of origin, which he believed had 
been set by Indians "to drive away the game" 
(Doane 1871). Even as late as 1887, a newspaper 
report entitled "Indian Marauders" testifies to In- 
dians along the western boundary of the park em- 
ploying this fire-drive technique: 

A serious danger menaces the game and 
forests of a portion of the Yellowstone 
National Park. This danger arises from the 
invasion of the country to the south and 
west of the reservation by Indian hunting 
parties, principally Bannocks and 
Shoshones from the agencies at Fort Hall, 
Lemhi and Washakie. 

These Indians leave their reservation and 
proceed toward the borders of the park, 
where they destroy great numbers of elk, 
drying the meat for winter use, and carry- 
ing it and the hides to their home. A far 
more serious injury than the destruction of 
game which thus takes place, is caused by 
the forest fires which these Indians kindle 
to drive the game from one place to an- 
other, or to prevent it from going to certain 
directions. In this way thousands of acres 
of living forest are frequently burned over, 
and an amount of harm is done that the 
growth of a quarter of a century cannot 

Captain Harris has known of this state of 
things for years, and has done everything 
in his power to keep the Indians away from 
the Park. He has repeatedly notified the 
interior department of these depredations 
but the agents in charge of these Indians 
have met his remonstrances with demands 
of facts which are perfectly well known to 
all travelers in the southern portion of the 
Park [Incomplete Xerox Copy, Billings 
Gazette, 1887, Bob Edgar Collection, Cody, 

Yet Indians who relied on fish and traveled 
on foot through the mountains could also main- 
tain a healthy wariness of fire. Some Sheep Eaters 
of central Idaho told G.A. Thompson that it was 
actually their practice to fight wildfires because 
of their "great fear" of the devastated canyons left 
in their wake (Thompson 1964). Today, managers 
of what remains of American Indian cultural re- 
sources in the park have good reason to feel threat- 
ened by fires as well. For when the flames of 1988 
drove through the Mammoth Hot Springs and 
Tower Junction areas, they quickly consumed 
whatever dried- wood remains of old Indian dwell- 
ings, pole storage locations or fenced game drives 
lay in their path — precious evidence of Indian pres- 
ence in the park for at least hundreds of years. 

Western Indians and the 
Greater Yellowstone Region 

/. The Bannock. Speakers of a Shoshonean 
dialect that springs from the Uto- Aztecan language 
family, the Bannock called themselves Bana 'kwut, 
or "Water People," although others knew them by 
more pejorative titles, such as "Diggers" or "Rob- 
ber Indians" (Swanton 1952:398). Hailing from 
northern Paiute stock with an aboriginal homeland 
located possibly in the eastern Oregon Plateau, 
once these Bannock obtained horses in the late 
1600s from Ute Indian traders to the south their 
lives were never the same. Under the widespread, 
group-naming tendency which we have already de- 
scribed for their new northern Shoshonean allies, 
in the early days the Bannock titles for their vari- 
ous subgroups betrayed an intimate association 
with particular ecosystems. For instance, there 
were Bannocks known as Kutsshundika, or "buf- 
falo eaters," those called Penointikara, meaning 
"honey eaters" and also the Shohopanaiti, or the 
"cottonwood Bannock" (Swanton 1952:398). With 
the rapid spread of their horse-culture, however, it 
was the first group, "buffalo eaters," who bloomed 
into the Bannocks of historical chronicles, and 
whose fortunes most impacted upon the history of 
the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. 

As these early Bannock shifted their base of 
operations into the Snake River and Lemhi River 
valleys, and the Bridger Basin, they formed a close 

Chapter 4. Shoshone. Bannock and Nez Perce 169 

affiliation, some maintain a virtual "confedera- 
tion," which not infrequently was sealed through 
intermarriage, with the already resident Shoshone. 
From here they launched their eastern forays in 
search of buffalo to be found in especially plenti- 
ful numbers in the Plains dubbed by them "Buf- 
falo House," around Laramie (Interview, Deward 
E. Walker, Jr., April 2, 1997). And while en route 
there, crossing the Yellowstone before dropping 
down the Bighorn valley, these Sho-Ban were not 
averse to exploiting any raiding opportunities along 
the way. Indeed, relations between these two tribes 
grew so interdependent that Deward E. Walker Jr. 's 
most recent argument is that "The artificial dis- 
tinction between the Bannock and the Shoshone 
as separate cultures must be discarded. The two 
groups comprised one social system during the 
protohistoric and historic periods" (Walker 
1993b: 154, see also Steward 1937 and Jorgenson 

Despite Walker's recent comments on the 
indivisibility, starting with their earliest days to- 
gether, of the Shoshone and Bannock, and the fact 
that non-Indians often found it difficult to tell the 
two tribes apart, one does discover commentary 
on psychological and physical differences between 
them. While some non-native observers found the 
Bannock more "aggressive" (Spence 1996a:15), a 
few Indians today will confide that the Bannock 
were "always the bigger people, taller" (Interview, 
Fort Hall, GE, November 18, 1995). And based 
upon his fieldwork, the scholar Sven S. Liljeblad 
believed that although prior to the Shoshone- 
Bannock merger the Bannocks were not known 
for their socio-political development on a level 
much larger than the "band," once they allied with 
the Shoshone they "tended to be a dominating 
group whenever they settled with the Shoshoni" 
(Liljeblad 1957:90). It was also Liljeblad's impres- 
sion that while the Shoshone could be character- 
ized as "extreme individualists," the Bannock ap- 
peared more willing to "sacrifice their personal 
differences and to follow their leaders in achiev- 
ing concerted action" (Liljeblad 1957:90). At the 
same time, the old internal distinction between the 
mounted and "walker" members of the Sho-Ban 
world continued to provide grist for inter-ethnic 
stereotyping, as the horse-riding Fort Hall Indians 
joked about their pedestrian bands who were so 

poor they became cannibals in destitute times and 
"could only keep themselves upright by placing 
forked sticks under their chins." But in retaliation, 
descendants of the Sheep Eaters would complain 
about "the haughtiness, quarrelsomeness and clan- 
nish egotism" among the horse-owning bands 
(Liljeblad 1971:7). 

Once they were on horseback the entire Yel- 
lowstone Plateau sat comfortably in the lap of 
Bannock territory, for their tribespeople of the late 
18th and early 19th centuries freely hunted through 
southeastern Idaho and western Wyoming, but 
could also be found down the Snake River, up the 
Salmon River, and into southern Montana. The 
eventual residence of these peoples was forecast 
five years later, when Nathaniel Wyeth established 
Fort Hall in 1834. However it would take until 1878 
for the freedom-loving tribe to be forcibly en- 
sconced on the Fort Hall Reservation. Never a 
numerous nation, they are estimated to have num- 
bered about 1,000 members in 1845, and accord- 
ing to the Indian agent for the Eastern district of 
Oregon, they had been reduced to only 700 souls 
by 1859 (in Ulebaker 1992:285). 

Until the mid-1830s the countryside of east- 
ern Idaho covered by Bannock hunters was home 
to ample numbers of buffalo, on which tribes from 
the Rocky Mountains all the way west across the 
plateau to the California Sierras could survive. As 
Osborne Russell wrote in 1841, "In the year 1836 
large bands of buffalo could be seen in almost ev- 
ery little valley on the small branches of this 
stream." Indeed, four years ago representatives of 
the Bannock tribe claimed that "Buffalo Country" 
was their original name for the Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park area {Yellowstone National Park Ar- 
chives, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Tribal Tax Com- 
mission to Superintendent Robert Barbee, Octo- 
ber 7, 1993). However the intensity of buffalo 
hunting, white settlement and mounting use of the 
trails heading west meant that five years later it was 
a much different story, as "the only traces which 
could be seen of them were the scattered bones of 
those that had been killed" (Russell 1965:123). 

With almost no adequate meat supply left on 
the Snake River Plain by the early 1840s (Steward 
1938:191. 204). now the Bannock were forced to 
range far wider and to undertake lengthier jour- 
neys in order to secure meat. This was when these 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

. ■ if 

juMl-k^ki't'" f>'* ^ 

■■■ .J»/.ii 




• yrrj 

A Y 

1 rV 


' ' /if 



■>' ' \ ( .... -v 

k» mi 


Figure 4.5. Bannock Indian brush lodge. Photograph about 1900. Location unknown. (Photo courtesy of Idaho 
State Historical Society, Catalog #77-69.4). 

long-distance hunting trips became yearly affairs, 
and increasingly the tribe was accompanied by 
their intimate associates, the Northern Shoshone. 
And on occasion, for reasons of collective secu- 
rity on these far-flung ventures, the Flathead, 
Lemhi and Wyoming Shoshone might join them 
as well (Steward 1938:191; Haines 1964:6). As 
Crowder writes of the Lemhi at this time, "As the 
buffalo were practically extinct in Idaho by 1840, 
the Indians of the Lemhi area had to cross the 
Continental Divide into Montana and travel into 
the Three Forks country, north and east of what is 
now Yellowstone National Park" (Crowder 
1969:18). Along the way they might utilize any 
resources in their path — plants, smaller game, 
mineral resources, and possibly they even stock- 
piled tipi poles en route, such as the cache of still- 
standing tipi poles leaning in the crotches of Cot- 
tonwood trees which one finds just off the Ban- 
nock Trail in the Lamar Valley today. 

The widening reach of these hunting expe- 
ditions also meant that these mixed-ethnic Ban- 
nock and Shoshone parties probably had greater 
contact with non-Indian communities than other 
Plateau Shoshoneans, and hence greater opportu- 
nities to raid for food and horses in order "to com- 
pensate for the loss of game and key resources" 
(Spence 1996a:16). As Faulkner describes the 
broadening yearly movements of Bannocks and 
Shoshones that developed in the 1841-63 time pe- 
riod following the virtual extinction of their local 
buffalo resources: 

Families or bands began their annual quest 
in the spring, moving down the Snake 
River to Camas Prairie or to the area of the 
junction of the Boise and the Snake rivers. 
After digging camas roots and trading with 
other Indians, they returned upstream fish- 
ing or trading for fish on the way home. In 
the autumn when the leaves were turning, 

Chapter 4. Shoshone, Bannock and Nez Perce 171 

the Shoshoni and Bannock migrated to Yel- 
lowstone River or Green River, where they 
spent the fall hunting in the buffalo coun- 
try, not only because they desired addi- 
tional hunting in the spring, but also be- 
cause of the comparably milder winters of 
the Yellowstone Valley. Usually, however, 
most of them returned to their winter camps 
on the Snake River [Faulkner 1988:48]. 

These new, more dangerous — and, to 
younger warriors, also more exhilarating — condi- 
tions of life had an internal effect on notions of 
tribal leadership. They quickly propelled to posi- 
tions of authority those Bannock and Shoshone 
chiefs leaders with proven abilities in battle 
(Liljeblad 1957:41). The new climate of height- 
ened mobility produced other transformations as 
well. Excellent horsemen, these tribes built up 
horse herds that numbered in the thousands, and 
for their relatively brief 1820-1840 heyday they 
lived life to the fullest, enjoying the white man's 
goods by trade or theft, as they hunted and raided 
at will. At the same time their increasing interac- 
tions with whites, although begun on an equal and 
promising footing, soon encouraged a battle-ready, 
aggressive outlook that prepared the Bannock and 
Northern Shoshone to strike out whenever they 
felt the government had reneged on promises of 
compensation for remaining at peace. 

Contributing to their belligerent mood was 
one of the worst mass killings of any Indians in 
the history of the United States. This was the an- 
nihilation of a band of northwestern Shoshone on 
the Bear River north of Cache Valley in Utah, on 
January 29, 1863. Every native member of the 
northern Great Basin Indian world would have 
heard word-of-mouth how "California Volunteers" 
under Colonel O'Conner had mowed down nearly 
250 men, women and children in an encounter that 
Madsen calls "unnecessary and cruel" and an out- 
right "massacre" (Madsen 1985:222-223), and 
which noted historian Alvin E. Josephy Jr. con- 
curs to have been "one of the largest, most brutal, 
and. because of its eclipse by other Civil War news, 
least-known massacres of Indians in American 
history" (Josephy 1 99 1 :259). As Josephy explains 
further, word of the tragedy passed quickly 
throughout the area's Indian communities, inspir- 

ing some to revenge, and intensifying in others a 
fearful apprehension about their very survival. 

At the same time the Bannocks and their al- 
lies were more clearly grasping what they had to 
lose as they watched with alarm the mounting vol- 
ume of emigrant traffic on the various roadways — 
the Oregon Trail, California Road, Lander's and 
Hudspeth's cut-offs — which pointed west along 
the various, lush river valleys that spilled out of 
Wyoming Territory and over their old hunting and 
foraging grounds. They were not going to allow 
their few decades of unbridled freedom to close 
without a fight. 

For their part, the attitudes of Anglo-Ameri- 
can emigrants, local settlers and townsfolk from 
areas surrounding Yellowstone National Park be- 
gan to stiffen towards Indians, as if importing from 
California the hardened posture nurtured in the 
gold country over the previous two decades. Only 
a few months before the Bear River killings a lo- 
cal man in Bannack, Montana "bought a Sheep- 
Eater squaw; but she refused to live with him, al- 
leging that she was ill treated" (Dimsdale 1982:33). 
When an elderly tribesman came to her defense, 
some barroom toughs immediately "declared, 
while drinking, that if the d— d cowardly white folks 
on Yankee Flat were afraid of Indians, they were 
not" and fired at point blank range into the tipi. 
killing the chief, a boy and a baby. Before they 
were completely exonerated by a local jury they 
explained that this was revenge for the killing by 
Indians of their friends during the 1849 California 
gold rush (Dimsdale 1982:34-35, 38). Others 
would continue to draw unflattering associations 
between Great Basin Indians of California and Utah 
and the horseless Shoshoneans they found in and 
around the park. Wrote Dr. A.C. Peale, a miner- 
alogist who accompanied FV. Hayden's 1871 sur- 
vey to Yellowstone, after discovering clear evi- 
dence of Indians in the northeastern corner of the 

We concluded that the Indians must belong 
to the same class as the Diggers. When 
Utah was settled by the Mormons, the Ute, 
Bannack, and Snake Indians were driven 
out, and as the game disappeared they were 
obliged to separate into small bands. Some 
were driven to the mountains [and] having 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

no ponies they are very poor, and live 
principally by stealing [from diary of Dr. 
A.C. Peale, entry for August 21, 1871, 
Merrill 1999]. 

It is necessary to evoke this general climate 
of ethnic animosity west of Yellowstone National 
Park in the 1860s and 70s if we are to understand 
the context and motivations for the Nez Perce, 
Bannock and Sheep Eater outbreaks which now 
were about to impact upon park history. For some 
citizens to the west in Idaho Territory, for instance, 
an oft-quoted editorial from a Boise newspaper in 
the fall of 1867, expressed their widely shared sen- 
timent towards Indians at this time: 

This would be our plan of establishing 
friendship on an eternal basis with our In- 
dians: Let all the hostile bands of Idaho 
Territory be called in (they will not be 
caught in any other manner) to attend a 
grand treaty; plenty of blankets and nice 
little trinkets distributed among them; 
plenty of grub on hand; have a jolly time 
with them; then just before the big feast 
put strychnine in their meat and poison to 
death the last mother's son of them [Idaho 
Statesman, Boise, Idaho, October 6, 1867]. 

For non-Indians to the north of the park, the 
words of Montana congressman James Cavanaugh, 
uttered the following year during debate on an "In- 
dian Appropriation Bill," echoed how many locals 
felt towards any free-roaming western Indians: my judgement, the entire Indian 
policy of the country is wrong from its very 
inception... The gentleman from Massa- 
chusetts may denounce the sentiment as 
atrocious, but I will say that I like an In- 
dian better dead than living. I have never 
in my life seen a good Indian (and I have 
seen thousands) except when I have seen a 
dead Indian. I believe in the Indian policy 
which was taught by the great chieftain of 
Massachusetts, Miles Standish. I believe 
in the policy that exterminates the Indians, 
drives them outside the boundaries of civi- 
lization, because you cannot civilize them 
[Congressional Globe, (May 28, 1868) 

To the east and south of the Yellowstone Pla- 
teau, a large measure of public opinion towards 

any native obstacle, Shoshone, Bannock or other- 
wise, to Wyoming's incoming pioneers, was re- 
flected in this editorial from a major Wyoming 
newspaper only two years later: 

The Indians must stand aside or be over- 
whelmed by the ever advancing and ever 
increasing tide of emigration. The destiny 
of the aborigines is written in characters 
not to be mistaken. The same inscrutable 
Arbiter that decreed the downfall of Rome, 
has pronounced the doom of extinction 
upon the redmen of America. The attempt 
to defer this result by mawking sentimen- 
talism in favor of savages is unworthy of a 
great people. . .If these Indian treaties have 
got into such a tangled knot that they can- 
not be untied, the sword of the pioneer will 
sever them [Cheyenne Daily Leader, 
March 3, 1870]. 

2. The Northern Shoshone. When the early 
linguist and folklorist James Teit (1864-1922) col- 
lected ethnographic information among the 
Salishan peoples of the eastern Oregon Plateau 
from 1907 to 1917, they gave him the strong im- 
pression that in their view, " to the south, both east 
and west of the rockies," there were no tribes that 
were not branches of the 'Snake,'" or Shoshone. 
As for the country "East of the Rockies," his In- 
dian informants led Teit to believe that: 

Shoshonean tribes occupied the Upper 
Yellowstone country, including the Na- 
tional Park, and they are said to have ex- 
tended east to the Bighorn Mountains or 
beyond. . .Farther north Shoshonean bands 
occupied the country around Livingston, 
Lewiston and Denton. How far east and 
down the Yellowstone they extended is not 
known; but they are thought to have at one 
time held the country around Billings, and 
most, if not all, of the country where the 
Crow Indians now have a reservation [Teit 
1930:268, emphasis ours]. 

Apart from the critical but characteristic ne- 
glect of a time frame in this Salish-oriented de- 
scription of Shoshone territory, and ignoring for 
the moment the important question of whether 
"owning" is the most accurate term to character- 
ize land-use customs of highly mobile Shoshonean 
bands, the quote at least provides an Indian per- 

Chapter 4. Shoshone, Bannock and Nez Perce 173 

spective on the virtual encompassment of the 
greater Yellowstone ecosystem by members of the 
Shoshonean peoples all along the southern half of 
the Park. Among their Siouan and Algonquian- 
speaking enemies these Shoshoneans were ma- 
ligned far and wide as "Snake Men" (Chippewa) 
or "Rattlesnake Men" (Yankton Dakota). At the 
same time other Plains tribes, who enjoyed better 
on-again/off-again trading relations with 
Shoshones. often adopted the more neutral name 
for them of "Grass Lodges" (Crow), or "People 
that use grass or bark for their houses or huts" 
(Arapaho) (Swanton 1952:403). As for self-des- 
ignations, the Fort Hall Shoshone came to know 
themselves as Bohogue, meaning "Sagebrush 
Butte," tying them to a promontory to the north- 
east of Fort Hall. Although their Lehmi Valley and 
lower Snake River linguistic kinfolk adopted this 
term as well, the Bannock knew the Fort Hall 
people as Wvnakwut, which probably meant "Iron 
Knife" (Steward 1938: 198). 

Due to their wide geographical range and 
highly changeable social and political organiza- 
tion, the total Shoshonean population was almost 
impossible to tabulate over these early decades. 
Whereas in 1845, ran the rough estimate of Indian 
agent Jacob Forney, the combined numbers of 
Shoshones and Sheep Eaters was about 4,500 souls 
(Ulebaker 1992: 285), this figure overlooked the 
highly localized, independent nature of their sub- 
groups. One of the largest of these Shoshonean 
populations were the group known as Pa.dai, or 
"Water," because its 200 families, who foraged 
over a 27,000 square mile area, had their base 
camps along Idaho's Lemhi River, centered around 
present-day Salmon (Steward 1938:188-189). A 
portion of this group were self-identified as Sheep 
Eaters, but the influence of the horse, which the 
Lemhi Shoshone obtained from Spaniards, was 
significant in attracting many of these independent 
mountaineers to relocate in the larger, horse-riding 
villages with their centralized control and author- 
ity under permanent chiefs. When the Lemhi 
hosted Lewis and Clark in 1806, the explorers 
counted about 400 horses at that time, and also 
noted the presence of Spanish bridles and brands. 

As for how the Indians employed these 
mounts, according to the leading scholar on Great 
Basin and Plateau cultures, Julian Steward, an an- 

nual semi-nomadic pattern soon arose. Conduct- 
ing the tedious task that was common among mid- 
19th century anthropologists of extracting lists of 
diagnostic cultural traits and then comparing them. 
Steward also found little distinction between these 
Northern Shoshone and Bannock, although he did 
distinguish them from their brethren who remained 
on foot, like the northerly Sheep Eaters. As Stew- 
ard summarized the new lifestyle: 

The two [Shoshone and Bannock] seem to 
have wintered together and pastured their 
horses in and near the lush bottomlands of 
the Snake River since prehistoric times. 
They usually made hunting expeditions 
together on horseback, sometimes going 
east to Wyoming for buffalo, west to Ca- 
mas Prairie and beyond to trade and gather 
roots, and down the Snake River below 
Shoshone Falls for fishing. The foot 
Shoshoni, along the Snake River gorge 
below American Falls, especially on the 
south bank, were, in contrast to the Fort 
Hall Shoshoni and Bannock, impoverished, 
primitive in their culture, restricted in their 
movements, and unorganized. Few of them 
owned horses [Steward 1938:200, empha- 
sis ours]. 

When reading ethnographies which describe 
such "seasonal rounds" of traditional American 
Indian societies, however, one should never un- 
derestimate the degree to which economic oppor- 
tunism dictated their survival strategies, and 
Shoshoneans were nothing if not master 
survivalists. Ever ready to adjust food-gathering 
habits when circumstances required, with condi- 
tions of life west of Yellowstone National Park 
shifting so radically year by year these Northern 
Shoshoneans changed their lifestyle accordingly. 
When a combination of factors such as fear of 
Blackfeet raiders, the scarcity of buffalo in the 
Snake River country, and the greater efficiency of 
communal hunting made larger groups mandatory, 
they had no hesitation about creating multi-ethnic 
bands of Fort Hall Shoshone, Bannock. Lemhi, 
Nez Perce. Flathead and Wind River Shoshone 
members who traveled together en masse. As size- 
able large parties moved eastward, they always 
scoured the landscape for any familiar seeds, roots 
and berries they could find in the mountains. In 
the Yellowstone National Park vicinity, for in- 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

stance, Steward notes that "they sometimes 
stopped briefly to gather nuts of the "white pine" 
variety, known as wongoduba, which they either 
ground and carried to the plains in buckskin sacks 
or cached to assure food for their return trip (Stew- 
ard 1938:204). 

During that optimistic interval when horse 
herds were multiplying and before the imposition 
of government pressure to consolidate on Idaho 
and Wyoming reservations, one of the favorite 
Northern Shoshone camp grounds lay near the 
Menan Buttes, two old volcanic craters southwest 
of the junction of the Snake River and Henrys Fork 
(Beal 1942:49). As the Northern Shoshone of Idaho 
made the horse a mainstay of their expanded 
lifestyle, the extent of journeys launched from such 
camps grew exponentially. Much as Chapter 2 
described the long-distance travels of Blackfeet 
explorers and raiders, there are early citations 
which describe "Pannacks" and even Shoshoneans 
from as far south as the Great Basin (Salt Lake) 
participating in hunting expeditions to the head- 
waters of the Missouri and the Yellowstone — jour- 
neys which might traverse 1,200 miles (Steward 

At the same time, for reasons of caution or 
cultural or environmental preference, those pock- 
ets of mountain Shoshoneans mentioned by Stew- 
ard clung to isolated highland outposts, remain- 
ing on foot and relying on their dogs in locations 
such as the headwaters of the Henry River, a tribu- 
tary of the Snake, where Hunt's Astoria party came 
upon them in 1811 (Irving 1964:12-13). Right into 
the days of forced consolidation on the reserva- 
tion, these subgroups often retained their older 
Shoshonean identity. "Although the Fort Hall 
Bannock and Shoshoni were probably compara- 
tively well amalgamated into a band by 1840," 
writes Steward — an amalgamation which Deward 
Walker would maintain was tantamount to a for- 
mal confederation — "there is little doubt that a few 
small groups continued for many years to live in 
isolation..." (Steward 1938:202). 

But the Shoshone-Bannocks could not avoid 
the overwhelming irony that descended upon all 
newly equestrian tribes of the Plains. This was the 
fact that just as one loan item from Euro-Ameri- 
can society was allowing them to cover ground so 
speedily, and to hunt far more effectively and ex- 

tend their tribal territories, the expanding territo- 
rial settlement by Euro-American society was 
quickly reining in their brief interval of seemingly 
boundless freedom. Each and every year after the 
informal opening of the Oregon Trail in 1841 the 
consequences of more and more wagon trains trun- 
dling through their country on a proliferating num- 
ber of trails and cutoffs and toll roads were not 
lost on the Shoshone. As Chief Washakie of the 
Wind Rivers would describe their impact on his 
people's lifestyle to Captain Frederick Lander in 

Before the emigrants passed through my 
country, buffalo, elk, and antelope could 
be seen.... Now, when I look for game, I 
see only wagons with white tops and men 
riding upon their horses. My people are 
very poor and have fallen back into the 
valleys of the mountains to dig roots and 
get meat for their little ones [Report to the 
Commissioner of Indian Affairs, U.S. 
House Executive Document 108, 35th Con- 
gress, 2nd Session, no. 1008]. 

Fifteen years earlier the opening phase of this 
traffic in pioneering wagon trains had seen only 
an estimated 1,000 people pass through Fort Hall. 
Yet two years later that number had tripled, and 
by 1863 the Bear Valley featured a permanent white 
town, with additional ranches and fences starting 
to crowd around the Fort Hall area with each pass- 
ing year. As proximity between Indians and whites 
tightened, the desires of new residents for more 
pasturage, railroad rights and homesites, together 
with anxieties about threatening Indians at large 
in the region, caused Idaho's Territorial Governor, 
Caleb Lyon, to establish the Fort Hall Reservation 
in 1867 (Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, Idaho Centen- 
nial Celebration Brochure, Fort Hall, Idaho, 1968, 
p. 5). 

And that same year President Andrew 
Johnson signed an Executive Order which gave 
federal sanction to the Fort Hall Reservation, a 
development that was accepted by the Indians the 
following year in the Fort Bridger Treaty of 1868. 
Initially this document set aside 1.8 million acres 
of the former Bannock homeland for a separate 
reservation for that tribe alone. Despite the paper 
document, however, the Bannocks were not moved 
from Fort Hall, and in 1872, due to "a surveying 

Chapter 4. Shoshone, Bannock and Nez Perce 175 

error," a shared reservation centered at Fort Hall 
for both the Bannock and the Northern Shoshone 
had been reduced to 1.2 million acres. 

Meanwhile there was another treaty of 1868 
that was never ratified, although it had been drafted 
and signed on September 24, 1868, at Virginia City, 
Montana Territory, between Indian Commissioner 
W. J. Cullen and Acting Montana Governor James 
Tufts. The agreement saw twelve members of "the 
mixed Shoshone, Bannacks and Sheepeaters" ac- 
cept two townships on the north fork of the Salmon 
River about twelve miles above Fort Lemhi 
(Kappler 1904:707). In his accompanying remarks 
to the treaty, Commissioner Cullen described the 
threesome as a "mixed nation" which was scat- 
tered "from the Yellowstone to a mountain between 
the Bitter Root and Big Hole, running through 
Montana into Idaho" (Kappler 1904:709). 

What makes this particular document valu- 
able is how it helps us to understand the cultural 
territory and desired lifestyle of these Bannock and 
Shoshone. Most important was their clearly stipu- 
lated right to travel to their nearby Camas Prairie, 
and to continue their long distance trips to the buf- 
falo country. According to Doty, while the 
Shoshones had described their eastern boundary 
at the Virginia City conference as the crest of the 
Rocky Mountains, "it is certain that they, as well 
as the Bannacks, hunt the buffalo below the Three 
Forks of the Missouri, and on the headwaters of 
the Yellowstone and Wind rivers... they wander 
over an immense region, extending from the fish- 
eries at and below Salmon Falls, on the Shoshonee 
[Snake] river, near the Oregon line, to the sources 
of that stream, and to the buffalo country beyond" 
(Doty 1864:174-175). 

Figure 4.6. Northern 

Shoshone (Photo courtesy 

of Yellowstone National 

Park Archives, Catalog 

#YELL 8134). 

176 American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

A year later, in another treaty finally signed 
on February 24, 1869, between the United States 
and the Bannock, it was stipulated that the tribe 
"shall have the right to hunt upon the unoccupied 
lands of the United States so long as game may be 
found thereon, and so long as peace subsists among 
the whites and Indians on the borders of the hunt- 
ing districts" (Kappler 1904-1941 ). But when Wyo- 
ming Territory was admitted into the Union as the 
44th state on July 10, 1890, there was an express 
declaration that it should have all the powers of 
other states over its lands, and make no special 
provisions for Indians, whether or not they had a 
treaty (in Supreme Court Reporter, V. 16: 1076— 

Despite the presumed pacification and con- 
finement of these Indians on the Fort Hall Reser- 
vation, however, relations between these new 
neighbors remained uneasy over the next three 
decades. In 1873 ranchers in the area were reported 
as increasingly "annoyed," as Special Commis- 
sioners John RC. Hanks, T.W. Bennet and Henry 
W. Reed reported to the Secretary of the Interior, 
about "roving bands of Indians. . .near whitemen's 
homes [which] causes distrust and fear on the part 
of women and children, and their universal cus- 
tom being to carry all their effects with them, their 
horses turned upon the prairies encroach on the 
inclosures of the whites" (Shanks et al. 1873:157-8). 

3. The Nez Perce. At first it seems to be 
little more than a twist of fate which wound up 
linking the geographically distant Nez Perce tribe 
so intimately with the history of Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park. We are referring, of course, to their 
famous evasive maneuvers through the region in 
1877, as will be described below. But even in ear- 
lier days, no sooner did the Nez Perce get horses 
than they apparently began venturing into the wider 
world to the east, as hunters, traders and raiders. 
This exploration gained them the geographical 
knowledge to which an old Nez Perce warrior 
known to whites as Hemene Moxmox, or "Yellow 
Wolf testified, when long after the 1877 war he 
stated emphatically in his autobiography: 

My grandfather [maternal], Homas, son of 
Seeloo Wahyakt, died on a buffalo hunt in 
Yellowstone Park. I am not mistaken. It 
was at Sokolinim [Antelope] where he was 
buried. This is north of some hot springs. 

Not over or beyond any big mountain, but 
is above where two rivers meet. . . We knew 
that Park country, no [matter] what white 
people say. And when retreating from sol- 
diers [during the Nez Perce War of 1877] 
we went up the river and crossed where 
are two big rocks. The trail there is called 
Pitou Kisnit, meaning Narrow Solid Rock 
Pass. This is on the south side of Pahniah 
Koos., We did not enter the Park by our 
old trail when on war retreat [McWhorter 
1948:26, emphasis ours]. 
At the turn of the 18th century Yellow Wolf's 
Plateau Indian tribe, some of whom today prefer 
to call themselves Nee-Me-Poo, were largely con- 
centrated in present-day western Idaho, in the heart 
of their aboriginal territory, and occupying com- 
munities of reed-mat or buffalo hide lodges that 
lay north and south of the Clearwater River. While 
James Mooney estimated their aboriginal popula- 
tion at about 4,000 members strong and spread 
across some 130 villages in this area (Walker 1985), 
in 1805 their numbers were believed to be as high 
as 6,000 by Lewis and Clark. However, less than 
fifty years later warfare and disease had withered 
their population down to an estimated 1,700 people 
(Swanton 1952:402). 

Within the Nez Perce communities of this 
pre-reservation period, their primary social group- 
ings were known as "camps," or, which 
according to Walker constituted "the smallest cus- 
tomarily associated group of persons tending to 
be found on a seasonal basis in a given named 
geographical locale" (Walker 1985:9). These 
"camps" differed from the more sizeable Nez Perce 
"village," or tew?yeni.kes, in that they only pos- 
sessed usufruct privileges over the environment, 
while the village was considered to "own" its geo- 
graphical territory. As for the highest level of Nez 
Perce socio-political grouping, this was the "band," 
which was composed of several villages located 
along a larger stream, into which each of the vil- 
lage streams emptied (Walker 1985: 13). However 
this one-dimensional picture of a static social hi- 
erarchy and structural sameness over the Nez Perce 
landscape must be altered by two real-life facts of 
their existence. 

The first concerned cultural diversity within 
the Nez Perce world across space, for throughout 
the southeastern Plateau the bands of Nez Perce 

Chapter 4. Shoshone, Bannock and Nez Perce 177 

"were clearly distinguished from one another and 
had well-known dialectical, ecological, and eco- 
nomic differences" (Walker 1985: 14). The second 
was their evolving character over time, for while 
always in a state of some flux, the lifestyle of these 
Nez Perce began to change dramatically as the 
different historical exposures of separate bands to 
the horse culture of the Plains after 1700 only wid- 
ened the sub-tribal specializations among them. 
Living in deep riverine canyons, for instance, the 
two main bands of the Salmon River Nez Perce, 
often derogatorily known as eneynu, 
which Walker translates as "provincials," kept re- 
lying on their fish and root diet despite the intru- 
sion of horses. 

However those bands north of the Clearwater 
who were more influenced by the Plains culture 
and who took to horses early on became known as 
k 'usaynu, or "sophisticated people." They 
would mock their pedestrian kinfolk with humor- 
ous imitations of their eating dogs and their pref- 
erence for huckleberries rolled in salmon fat over 
the more manly buffalo flanks (Walker 1985:14). 
Thanks in part to their commercial and social in- 
teractions with the Flathead and, especially, with 
the Crow, it was these Nez Perce who greatly ex- 
panded their world-view. As to the degree to which 
this cultural cross-fertilization expanded their geo- 
graphical freedom as well, the leading expert on 
the tribe, Deward E. Walker Jr., asserts: 

The Nez Perce had a pretty full knowledge 
of that area that would include present 
Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, prob- 
ably Nebraska and the river systems, the 
mountain systems, the locations of the dif- 
ferent tribes... The Crow came over to 
Idaho to trade horses often and there's a 
lot of exchange back and forth. You know, 
I think anthropologists have got them- 
selves much too limited in their thinking 
about tribal movements. I've always run 
into this with archaeologists especially. 
People erect boundaries that tribes never 
understood, recognized, or even now agree 
with, concerning the range of their move- 
ments [Interview, Deward E. Walker Jr.. 
April, 2, 1997 1. 

Of course it is principally due to the role of 
Chief Joseph's followers and their much-publi- 

cized "war" of 1877 that the history of their tribe 
will always be irrevocably linked with that of Yel- 
lowstone National Park. Although that violent in- 
terchange only involved rebellious remnants of the 
Lower Snake and Salmon-Wallowa groups of the 
tribe, and the Park lay somewhat to the southeast 
of their traditional range, it is highly likely that 
Nez Perce awareness of routes across the greater 
Yellowstone preceded those exploits. During his 
forty years of fieldwork among Plateau tribes, 
Deward E. Walker Jr. took road trips on both sides 
of the Rocky Mountain uplift in the company of 
Nez Perce, Kootenai, Flathead and Wind River 
consultants. He summarizes the experience: 

In the process it became apparent to me 
that there were a number of fairly well es- 
tablished pathways or trail systems that 
they followed. Lolo [Pass] of course, which 
goes to Flathead country, and then the 
southern pass that they would go through, 
or the southern trail that they would take 
is now the one that goes across Bannock 
Pass, not far from Leadore, Idaho. They 
would go up and over there and down into 
the park area on a regular basis, some- 
times even accompanied by some of the 
Lemhi... They usually went in pretty big 
[multi-tribal] parties because they were 
afraid of the Lakota and they were afraid 
of the Blackfeet ... .1 would say that the Nez 
Perce. . .looked upon the park as a friendly 
place, a place where there was good hunt- 
ing, none of this stuff that the Swedish eth- 
nographer [Ake Hultkrantz] talks about, no 
fear of the geysers or any of the other stuff 
he said worried other tribes. I don't think 
he's right about that. I think that's all non- 
sense [Interview, Deward E. Walker Jr.. 
April 2, 1997. emphasis ours]. 

Occasionally one runs across older docu- 
ments to back up Walker's assertions about Nez 
Perce interaction with other tribes. Their friendly 
trade with, inter-tribal marriage among, and artis- 
tic influence on Crow culture has been well stud- 
ied (data summarized in Galante 1984; Lessard 
1980; Loeb 1983). They also enjoyed a clearly 
marked. 800-mile trail from Lapwai and across the 
Salmon and Boise rivers to the Wind River coun- 
try, where they hunted for buffalo and returned to 
the Columbia River with hides for trade with those 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

fisherman groups {Report on Indians Taxed and 
Indians Not Taxed in the United States at the Elev- 
enth Census: 1880, U.S. Government Printing Of- 
fice, Washington, D.C., 1894, p. 627). But these 
same citations also touch on the potential draw- 
backs of such adventures, such as the report of a 
clash with the Sioux east of Yellowstone Park 
around 1867. Eight of the Nez Perce were killed, 
and under cover of night they wrapped their 
corpses in raw buffalo hides, lashed them to the 
backs of their ponies, and rode for thirty days be- 
fore returning safely to Lapwai, Idaho. 

To get within range of the easterly trails lead- 
ing into and bordering the park, the Nez Perce of 
Idaho might well have turned east from their own 
"ancient Nez Perce Indian Trail," which headed 
into the Snake River country "by way of the Seven 
Devils [Mountain], crossed over the mountains, 
and wound down into the Wester River drainage," 
a major route for the horse trade used by Spokanes, 
Flatheads and Cayuse as well (Corless 1990:13). 
Before finding themselves that far south, however, 
the Nez Perce hunters would probably have cut 
west, skirting the northern rim of Lemhi and Shos- 
hone-Bannock territories, in order to hasten 
through the Yellowstone Plateau in search of the 
buffalo herds. That they might not have been in- 
hibited from striking through the center of the park 
area itself was suggested by the Nez Perce histo- 
rian Adeline Fredin to Joseph Weixelman. As she 
wrote to him, the "geysers/hot springs were a cer- 
emonial and religious part in our history/prehis- 
tory... It was one place where the Great Spirit ex- 
isted and we could bath the body and spirit di- 
rectly" (Weixelman 1992:53). 

Indian "Wars" of the West and 
Yellowstone National Park 

Because these hostilities are part of the his- 
tory of Indian relations with the greater Yellow- 
stone region, in this section we briefly review the 
causes and consequences of three of the some 1,470 
incidents of military action which are officially 
enumerated by the U.S. War Department against 
American Indians between the years 1776 and 1907. 
In fact, only two of these Yellowstone actions were 
ever formally elevated to the status of "war" un- 

der the U.S. Army typology: (a) the Nez Perce 
"war," that lasted from May 14 to October 1, 1877, 
and covered a theater of skirmishes that ran for 
1,170 miles, and (b) the 1 878 Bannock Indian "war" 
in Idaho, Washington Territory, and Wyoming Ter- 
ritory, while (c) the third was often referred to as 
the Snake or Sheep Eater Indian campaign or 
"troubles," that took place from August to Octo- 
ber 1879 in Idaho. 

Before summarizing these conflicts and their 
connections to Yellowstone National Park in par- 
ticular, an introductory word on what historian 
Frederick E. Hoxie has called the "self-justifying 
rhetoric" of violence in the history of Indian-white 
relations seems in order (Personal communication. 
May 20, 1997). As we have already seen, tradi- 
tional historians of the Indian wars of the West 
generally adopted words like "raid" or "skirmish" 
or even "feud" to characterize the intrusions by 
parties of Blackfeet and other tribes into the Yel- 
lowstone Plateau during the early fur-trapping and 
"mountain man" years. In those instances the terms 
usually evoked stealthy, hit-and-run attacks by ad- 
venturesome Indian warriors on the prowl for guns, 
horses or furs from whomever they might encoun- 
ter, Indians or non-Indians. These terms covered 
the pitched battles and hand-to-hand combat nec- 
essary to gain the war honors and the booty that 
would win heightened status for the tribesmen once 
they returned home. So we might well ask if the 
conflicts in this chapter were in fact fully-fledged 
wars, or are they more aptly characterized on an 
individual basis as, "a military version of that child- 
hood game known as blind man's buff." which is 
how Aubrey Haines described the Yellowstone 
Park chapter of the Nez Perce War of 1877 (Haines 
1996:219), or "a summer of fox-and-hounds 
chase," as Brigham D. Madsen referred to the 
Bannock War of 1878 (Madsen 1986:108). or a 
"pathetic affair... committed to memory by Idaho 
historians under the presumptuous title of 'the 
Sheep Eater War'" of 1879 (Liljeblad 1972:39)? 

What is similar about the violence to be sum- 
marized in this chapter, however, is that the anxi- 
eties raised by the native peoples that were mov- 
ing in and around the western boundary of the park 
presented opportunities for military authorities to 
argue for their own protective role to the park. They 
provided justification for park officials to try and 

Chapter 4. Shoshone. Bannock and Nez Perce 179 

persuade Indian agencies to keep tighter rein on 
their Indians. We also detect a semantic shift in 
terminology. Instead of "raid" or "attack" we now 
have the formalized introduction of that inflam- 
matory word war, and the intrusion of a logic of 
military retaliation which that rhetoric for Indian- 
white conflict kicked into gear. 

Throughout the history of Indian- white rela- 
tions we often get the impression that this shift 
from "raid" to "war" reflects the spirit of the times, 
when an emotional vocabulary was needed for 
military strategists and their supporting politicians 
to respond to public outcry for redress against per- 
ceived threats to its security. On the other hand, 
might not this semantic shift from "raid" to "war" 
have also quite accurately reflected new terms of 
engagement, in which native peoples had decided 
to resist diplomatic or other maneuvers to shrink 
their territory or to remove them altogether, or to 
mount a last-ditch form of collective defiance 
against perceived oppression? In the brief span of 
three years, the park experienced this semantic shift 
as it bore witness to outbreaks by invading Nez 
Perce (1877) and neighboring Bannocks (1878) as 
well as perhaps overblown problems with the west- 
ern group of Sheep Eaters (1879). Another inci- 
dental commonality among these hostilities was 
that they all drew the involvement of the same 
veteran Indian fighter, General Oliver Otis 
Howard; in the general's own mind, suggests his- 
torian Robert M.. Utley, there may even have been 
a deeper connection, for "the Bannock-Pauite War 
enablefd] the one-armed 'praying general' to gloss 
over the stains left on his reputation by the Nez 
Perce War" (Utley 1973:329). A third common 
feature was that none of them appear to have been 
directed against the park's existence or its authori- 
ties per se. But their most profound shared causes 
were the similar losses to each of these American 
Indian peoples of their ways of life and land ten- 
ure. A surprising appreciation of this deeper back- 
ground shared by the Nez Perce, Bannock and 
Sheep Eater conflicts was offered by Mrs. Emma 
Carpenter Cowan, which she even spiced with a 
little cultural critique of her own society. What 
makes her paragraph so unaccountably charitable 
is that this is the same 24-year-old woman who 
was captured, along with her husband George 
Cowan, on her second wedding anniversary, Au- 

gust 23, 1877, by the Nez Perce rebels in Yellow- 
stone National Park. Despite watching her 
wounded husband nearly die, and enduring fears 
for her own fate, she would later write: 

...a tribe of Indians is located on a reser- 
vation. Gold is discovered thereon by the 
prospector. A stampede follows. The strong 
arm of the government alone prevents the 
avaricious pale face from possessing him- 
self of the land forwith. Soon negotiations 
are pending with as little delay as a few 
yards of red tape will admit. A treaty is 
signed, the land is ceded to the government 
and opened to settlers, and "Lo, the poor 
Indian" finds himself on a tract of a few 
degrees more arid, a little less desirable 
than his former home. The Indian has few 
rights the average white settler feels bound 
to respect [Cowan 1931-59:169-170]. 

As for their impact on Yellowstone National 
Park, the trio of hostilities about to be profiled 
would rattle its public relations image for years to 
come. They would also leave an indelible mark 
on the park's management towards Native Ameri- 
cans. But from today's vantage point they seem a 
little out of proportion to any real threats, which 
seem to deserve more of a law enforcement than 
national military response. 

/. The Nez Perce War of 1877. Following 
the park's formation in 1872 there were occasional 
expressions of concern by park employees con- 
cerning poaching by Indian hunters. But it was the 
Nez Perce outbreak of 1877 which aroused a pro- 
found sense of vulnerability among potential tour- 
ists, and official concern about the park's ability 
to protect its borders. The immediate origins of 
this particular campaign, whose denouement in- 
cluded a clumsy but bloody dash through Yellow- 
stone National Park, can be traced back to the mid- 
1 850s. That was when an energetic governor of 
the Washington Territory, Isaac I. Stevens, sought 
to snap up millions of acres from Plateau and Co- 
lumbia River Indian tribes through the most in- 
tense period of treaty-making in which the United 
States government would ever engage. Among the 
forty-five treaties which Stephens and his aides 
hastily drafted and managed to authorize with In- 
dian "signatures" was one signed in May 1855 with 
the Nez Perce. 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

The thrust of this document was the turnover 
by the Nez Perce of their vast countryside across 
the mountains, valleys and rivers of southeastern 
Washington, northeastern Oregon and north-cen- 
tral Idaho, and the acceptance of a 5,000-square- 
mile reservation in Idaho. But tribal feelings about 
this treaty were by no means unanimous, since it 
demanded the surrender of the Nez Perces' beloved 
Wallowa Valley. Already splits within the tribe had 
been exacerbated by Christian missionaries, with 
the result that outsiders, at least, divided the Nez 
Perce into "Christian" and "pagan" factions. With 

the dissent over the 1855 land cessation, however, 
there was now an added gulf between the view- 
points of progressive or "treaty," and traditional 
or "nontreaty," members of the tribe. 

In the early 1860s, after gold was discovered 
within the new reservation, some Nez Perce were 
pressured into accepting an even smaller reserva- 
tion along the Clearwater River. However, the 
"non-treaty" group had shunned both agreements, 
with one group camped on the lower Salmon River 
under the leadership of White Bird, while a sec- 
ond clung to the Wallowa country, located across 

Figure 4. 7. Nez Perce 
warriors revisiting site of 
Baronett Bridge, which they 
partially destroyed in 1877 
(Photo courtesy of 
Yellowstone National Park 
Archives, Catalog #YELL 

Chapter 4. Shoshone, Bannock and Nez Perce 181 

the Snake River in eastern Oregon. Heading the 
latter community was the Nez Perce named 
Heinmot Tooyalakekt ("Thunder Coming From 
Water Over Land"), but who had been baptized at 
the age of three as "Joseph" (Halfmoon 1996:309). 
According to Nez Perce themselves, Joseph was 
actually a "civil chief rather than a "war chief," 
whom circumstances soon thrust into military lead- 
ership. Although the fertile Wallowa Valley was 
opened up to white settlement, and these nontreaty 
leaders finally submitted to the whiteman's insis- 
tence upon their removal, a violent outburst by 
some of White Bird's young warriors in June 1977 
left four white settlers dead. 

Expecting the worst, the anti-treaty Nez 
Perce now gathered their forces. Within weeks a 
series of bloody engagements began to move east- 
ward like giant footsteps, from western Idaho and 
eventually covering over 1,200 miles until they 
came to a sad denouement on October 5 on 
Montana's Snake Creek, less than forty miles from 
the U.S.-Canadian border. During five days of that 
exhausting chain of heated fights and nightly out- 
maneuvering, as the outnumbered Nez Perce rebels 
feinted and clashed in their last bid for freedom — 
described by U.S. Library of Congress historian 
Robert M. Utley as "one of history's great — and 
tragic — odysseys" (Utley 1984:190) — the Indians 
were inside Yellowstone National Park. The story 
of their traversing of the park under Chief Joseph 
has been told often and requires no more than brief 
summary here, drawn from accounts in Lang 
(1990), Utley (1973) and Wilfong (1990). 

Some time around August 22nd Nez Perce 
scouts are believed to have first crossed into the 
park, moving along the Madison and then the Fire- 
hole Rivers, and on the morning of August 24, tak- 
ing prisoner the Frank Carpenter party, early tour- 
ists in the park. Returning to the main body of Nez 
Perce with their captives, initially the whites were 
freed, but a subsequent tense encounter saw one 
of them severely wounded and three others escape 
into the trees. Riding along Trout Creek, the next 
day the Indians headed on to what became known 
as Nez Perce Ford, and on August 26th the rest of 
these prisoners were released. 

But the Nez Perce were splintered into some- 
what separate groups, and one band of indepen- 
dent-minded warriors engaged in two more attacks 

on tourists, near Mud Volcano and just north of 
Mammoth Hot Springs, leaving two dead victims 
behind them. As if aware of the consequences, the 
Indians quickly headed north, burning James 
Henderson's ranch house and then trying to put 
the seven-year-old Baronett Bridge at Junction 
Butte at the junction of the Lamar and Yellow- 
stone Rivers out of commission behind them. Aside 
from yanking out some beams, however, and try- 
ing to burn them up, the runaways caused only 
minor delays to General Howard pressing on their 
rear, who was forced to halt for the three hours it 
took to repair the span. 

Although the combined forces of Generals 
Howard and William T. Sherman were gearing up 
for a pincer movement to grab the Indians when 
they emerged out of the Clarks Fork Canyon on 
the park's eastern slopes, Nez Perce scouts seem 
to have second-guessed the strategy. Riding to the 
crest of the Clarks Fork canyon, the Indians first 
crossed the eastern end of Sunlight Basin and then 
performed one of their most cunning maneuvers 
of the entire campaign. It was as if in finding a 
way to outsmart the whites in escaping from the 
Yellowstone Plateau they were making up for their 
fumbling around for the most efficient Madison 
River entry into it, which had caused that first run- 
in with the tourists a week before. 

Instead of exiting from Sunlight Basin in 
plain sight of one group of eagerly waiting sol- 
diers — headed by Colonel Samuel D. Sturgis — the 
Nez Perce party diverted onto a little trail that led 
from Dead Indian Hill, as if making for the 
Shoshone River. But then they doubled back and 
abandoned this trail altogether, descending instead 
down a narrow, heavily shaded, rocky draw on the 
east side of Dead Indian Hill, before hurriedly re- 
turning to the Clarks Fork. By this time the impa- 
tient Col. Sturgis had repositioned his troops from 
the Clarks Fork over to the Stinking Water. But 
soon General Howard was back at the Clarks Fork 
Canyon entrance and discovered, to the chagrin 
of all, that the Indians were already long gone. 
According to Nez Perce themselves, accusations 
that Joseph's Nez Perce were initially lost in the 
park are erroneous. They maintain that a man 
named Ho-to-toe-e, who "was familiar with the 
country east of the Rocky Mountains... he always 
live there, raised there," had led them through 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

(Lang 1990:22, cites unpublished interviews with 
historian Lucullus McWhorter; the Nez Perce 
movements through Yellowstone National Park are 
expertly summarized in Lang 1990, while a day- 
by-day itinerary of Nez Perce movements written 
for park visitors is in Wilfong 1990:226-272). 

In fact, after his exhaustive study of the Nez 
Perce experience in the Yellowstone Plateau, his- 
torian William L. Lang suggests that the hungry, 
weary Indians most likely tarried in the park to 
get some much-needed rest, to hunt the grass-fat- 
tened elk, to enjoy the meadows and groves which 
were reminiscent of home. He concludes: 

The Nez Perces wanted to stay in the Park. 
In other words, they decided to remain in 
the Park; they were not there because of 
disorientation or incompetence.... 
Throughout their ordeal, the Nez Perces 
had pursued the same strategy: avoidance 
of conflict with whites and attainment of 
sanctuary. What they wanted was their true 
and just homeland and an end to harass- 
ment. Those days in the Park may have 
been the closest they came to their goals 
during their heroic flight [Lang 1990:29]. 

The Nez Perce claim of long experience with 
this terrain is buttressed by the fact that the pass 
over Dead Indian Hill, at least, had experienced 
all sorts of traffic over many years. First it was a 
well-known game migration route (U.S. National 
Archives — Rocky Mountain Region, R.G. N.95, 
Records of The Forest Service Historical files, 
1900-65, Box 15, Folder #81, Narrative by J. K. 
Rollinson, May 15, 1935); then it was part of the 
Bannock Trail used by different Indians groups for 
countless decades, after which it became known 
as the precipitous "Beaver Slide" stretch of an early 
wagon route. But we might interject here that its 
place-name has, on occasion, been erroneously 
associated with the Nez Perce war. The story goes 
that a Nez Perce insurgent was slain on top, when 
in fact the killing of the Indian for which it was 
remembered occurred the following year, during 
the Bannock campaign. The Bannock was said to 
have first been wounded by U.S. troops during 
General Miles' first assault on the Bannocks south 
of Clark, Wyoming, and only the following day 
was killed and scalped by Crow Indian scouts. 
Then his grave was marked by a pile of stones with 

an upright steel bar sticking out of one side (Shos- 
hone National Forest 1941:7; Rollinson n.d.:7). 

Such was that important chapter of the Nez 
Perce "war" which was staged within Yellowstone 
National Park. One still hears folklore about a se- 
cret meeting on the Sunlight Basin between Chief 
Joseph or his sub-chief Looking Glass and the 
Crow leader, Chief Plenty Coups, during these 
anxious days. There are also unverifiable stories 
that a few Nez Perce asked some friendly Crows 
to adopt their children in order to keep them out 
of harm's way. Eager to enlist their old trading 
partners in their struggle, and possibly in its 
Dreamer ideology of nativistic renewal, a third 
story goes that the Nez Perce were apparently dis- 
appointed to learn that the Crows would stick with 
their tried and true posture of neutrality — which 
did not prevent them from signing on as occasional 
U.S. government scouts against both the Bannocks 
and the Nez Perce. But our project was unable to 
elicit native verification regarding such a clandes- 
tine conference. 

It is interesting, however, that the climactic 
Nez Perce escape maneuver was conducted in the 
shadow of an important if enigmatic American 
Indian cultural feature to the north and east of the 
park. This is the semicircle of angular boulders 
atop the 8,673-foot Dead Indian Hill, which Bill- 
ings researcher Ken Feyhl recorded in July 3-4, 
1976, as "Bicentennial Rock Structure #48PA44." 
Conjectures for its function include vision quest 
structure, fortification, or, most plausibly in Feyhl's 
opinion, an observation post. 

One indication of native topographical 
knowledge is the presence of indigenous mapping, 
which has proved elusive for Yellowstone. A de- 
piction on a buffalo hide by unidentified Indians 
including "among other things a little incredible, 
a Volcano. . .distinctly described on Yellow Stone" 
was collected by the Governor of Louisiana Terri- 
tory, James Wilkinson, and sent to Thomas 
Jefferson, who thereupon deposited it in the Uni- 
versity of Virginia where it was destroyed by a 
fire (Haines 1974:4). However the only native- 
drawn "name glyph," or pictographic representa- 
tion for Yellowstone National Park or its geyser 
field that our study was able to turn up was an 
indirect product of this Nez Perce campaign. The 
image is found on a pictorial map of the 1877 war's 

Chapter 4. Shoshone, Bannock and Nez Perce 183 

Figure 4.8. Scheme of map by Cheyenne scout, Crazy Mule, depicting Yellowstone-Milk river country, with 
niseis from actual map showing Yellowstone geyser field ( I roni Iredlund el ai, 1996, p. 14-15). 

184 American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

stage of operations which was drawn by a North- 
ern Cheyenne Indian scout named John Crazy 
Mule who was stationed at Fort Keogh in Mon- 
tana Territory between 1877 and 1890 (Fredlund et 
al. 1996). One of two drawings made by this indi- 
vidual with red lines on lined ledger book paper in 
about the year 1880, the document was discovered 
among the papers of the military ethnographer, 
John Gregory Bourke, that are deposited in the 
archives division of the Joselyn Art Museum in 
Omaha, Nebraska. 

Crazy Mule's depiction of the Nez Perce 
campaign focuses on the Yellowstone, or "Elk," 
and Milk River drainages. Especially interesting 
are his details of the battles on Rosebud Creek and 
in the Bearpaw Mountains. But the artist also in- 
dicates a skirmish on the Nez Perce escape route 
near the extreme left side of the map, where the 
headwaters of the Yellowstone are depicted branch- 
ing out as they flow downward from the mountain 
range and past the Yellowstone geyser field. As 
Fredlund et al. decipher the sprays of encircled 
and isolated lines beneath the isolated mountain 
range located here: 

A knowledge of Northern Plains Indian 
pictography allows a rough interpretation 
of these pictographs; however, their spe- 
cific references rely on historic sources, 
discussed below. Following the first trail 
down the left side of the map, one finds a 
pictograph at the foot of the mountain range 
on one of the upper branches of the Yel- 
lowstone River. The pictograph consists of 
a circle enclosing a series of short lines. 
Trees surround the circle. A figure appar- 
ently representing a geyser... The closest 
interpretation this glyph allows is "they 
were surrounded in a grove near geysers" 
[Fredlund etal. 1996:13]. 

The Nez Perce warpath had hardly cooled 
before one of two typical responses by would-be 
tourists to Yellowstone National Park set in. On 
the one hand, then as today there was a fascina- 
tion to view the actual scene of the tense encoun- 
ters, as evidenced during the tour made by the H.W. 
Hutton party in September, 1881, which generally 
retraced the Nez Perce route into the park by way 
of the Madison valley. After an overnight at Drift- 
wood along the bank of the West Fork, the party 
of five female and four male visitors were thrilled 

to be shown the very spot "where a party of citi- 
zens from Willow camped; their object was to steal 
horses from Joseph band of Nez Perce. The Indi- 
ans made their appearance on the bluff above their 
camp, fired on them and stampeded their horses, 
so they were compelled to go home on foot" ( YNP 
Archives, H.W. Hutton Account of Trip Through 
Yellowstone National Park (1881), Typescript, 
page 2). 

On the other hand, some doubt about the 
government's invincibility had been cast by the 
facility with which those renegade Nez Perce had 
penetrated the sanctity of America's first national 
park. Even as late as 1900, the park's acting super- 
intendent, a captain of the First Cavalry, would 
feel compelled to reassure a prospective visitor 
who had written anxiously about rumors of hos- 
tile Indians, and about the whereabouts of hot 
springs to assuage his rheumatism, "There are no 
Indians in the park, and no more outlaws that may 
be found in any other part of the West; you would 
be as safe in the park as in your own home"(YNP 
Archives, Letters Sent, V. 9, Oct. 2, '99 to Sept. 9, 
90; May 4th, 1900). 

2. The Bannock War of 1878. If the greater 
Yellowstone region is to be remembered for its 
historical role in any Indian-white hostilities, the 
Bannock War would actually seem a far more suit- 
able candidate than the Nez Perce war. For while 
it did not see a bloodshed directly within the park 
boundaries, the fighting raged all around it, its ori- 
gins were more steeped in the region's history, and 
like the Nez Perce the year before, the Bannock 
rebels would cut through the northern reaches of 
the park in hopes of joining up with Sitting Bull in 
Canada (Thompson and Thompson 1982: 106). And 
finally, aftershocks from this flareup would rever- 
berate the longest, as rumors of Bannocks on the 
loose in the park would be heard well into the 

In the fall of 1868 two government officials 
made an optimistic assessment of Bannock and 
Sheep Eater receptivity to settling down to con- 
structive reservation life. "They are peacefully dis- 
posed towards the whites," wrote S.S. Commis- 
sioner W. J. Cullen and Acting Governor of Mon- 
tana James Tufts in their notes to a treaty they had 
negotiated with these Indians, "They are tractable 
and intelligent, receiving instruction quite 

Chapter 4. Shoshone. Bannock and Nez Perce 185 

readily..." (Kappler 1904:709). In no small mea- 
sure it was official neglect and empty stomachs 
which forced the Bannocks and Shoshones at the 
Fort Hall Reservation to continue to break the rules. 
In 1875, agent W.H. Danilson, an apparently sym- 
pathetic man with a respect for the limited sur- 
vival options open to his charges, reported with 
nonjudgmental candor: 

Owing to the small amount appropriated 
for their support the majority of the Indi- 
ans have been obliged to resort to the 
mountains in quest of game for their 
subsistence. ...Quite a number of the 
Bannacks, who have heretofore gone to the 
Yellowstone country to spend the winter 
hunting buffalo, concluded last fall to forgo 
their annual hunt and spent the winter on 
the reservation. Unfortunately the supply 
of beef became exhausted about the 1st of 
January, and they, together with the 
Shoshones. were here all winter with 
scarcely any meat at all. They became thor- 
oughly disgusted with the reservation, and 
early this summer struck out for their old 
hunting-grounds [Danilson 1 875:258, em- 
phasis ours]. 

The following year Danilson's acknowledged 
that conditions had not improved. Rations were 
insufficient, and even ran completely out before 
the year was done. Then heavy snow prevented 
the Indians from going out to hunt on their own, 
and they were forced to beg at his door to avoid 
starvation (Danilson 1876). 

Under these circumstances, it was probably 
little surprise to Danilson that when the next hunt- 
ing season rolled around he counted nearly half of 
the 1.052 Indians under his responsibility as ab- 
sent from the reservation, "on the road to and from" 
their buffalo-hunting grounds — by which he con- 
ceivably meant the Bannock Trail through Yellow- 
stone National Park. Meanwhile, at Fort Hall ru- 
mors of troops coming to quell the Nez Perce had 
caused his Bannocks to be "rather restless" 
(Danilson 1877 "Report of Fort Hall Agency." in 
Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Af- 
fairs to the Secretary of the Interior, U.S. Govern- 
ment Printing Office, Washington). 

The immediate provocation often cited as the 
match that ignited this unstable situation was non- 
Indian invasion of the Indians" favored grounds 

for digging their staff of life — bulbs of the camas 
plant. After the Treaty of 1868 failed to protect 
this expanse in eastern Idaho, white stockmen and 
farmers took over. When packs of domesticated 
pigs rooted out the plants, the Bannocks became 
furious. In Indian oral history, this resentment was 
fixed in time and space in a story which held that 
the war actually erupted after their disturbed ca- 
mas pastures were discovered in 1878 and they 
left for the warpath following the harvest. Anthro- 
pologist Sven Liljeblad maintains that the insur- 
gents actually broke away before the camas har- 
vest had taken place, on May 30th (Liljeblad 
1971:8) — possibly because the outrage had ren- 
dered it futile and they were inspired to lash back 
without delay. 

The Nez Perce and Bannock outbursts shared 
some interesting features. First was a geographi- 
cal connection. Against the background of unrest 
at home, it did not take much for angry Shoshones 
and Bannocks, fewer than 200 strong, to break 
north and east, with the last surviving insurgents 
following much the same Yellowstone National 
Park route pursued by Nez Perce the year before. 
As for a second, curious tie-in between the Nez 
Perce and Bannock hostilities, whereas the Lemhi 
Shoshone Chief Tendoy cautioned restraint among 
his people, it fell to the Bannock successor to Chief 
Pocatello. a young warrior named Buffalo Horn, 
who had actually served as a government scout 
during the Sioux and Nez Perce campaigns, now 
to assume command of the rebellious Bannocks. 
But the third, and probably most important link 
between these hostilities was their shared spiri- 
tual ideology. Behind both flareups loomed the in- 
fluence of anti-Euro-American nativistic move- 
ments, originating in spirit from the 1870 Califor- 
nia and Great Basin Ghost Dance prophets, but 
more directly from the new religion spawned by 
the Columbia River Dreamers, and spearheaded 
by the Wanapum holy man. Smoholla (Ruby and 
Brown 1989:68-69). The Nez Perce called their 
take on this Dreamer religion, "turning around one- 
self." and they emphasized visions acquired in 
dreams, a single deity, cleanliness and respect for 
the female earth (Aoki 1979:84-85). And just as 
Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce had the Dreamer- 
influenced religious advisor named 
Toohoolhoolzote constantly by his side through- 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

out their escape trek through the park to the even- 
tual showdown in the Bear Paw Mountains, so did 
the Bannock uprising have a Northern Paiute sha- 
man, named Oytes, from the Malheur Agency in 
Oregon, apparently contributing his militant inter- 
pretation of Smoholla's doctrine. 

As the succession of bloody clashes between 
a few hundred Bannock, Paiute and Umatilla in- 
surgents and white farmers, volunteer patrols, gov- 
ernment surveyors and military troops unfolded 
across southern Idaho and into Wyoming, the rebel 
leaders were picked off one by one (much of the 
following data comes from historian Kyle V. 
Walpole's recent reconstruction of the Bannock 
campaign for the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, 
especially his research into its climax on Bennett 
Butte to the east of Yellowstone National Park; 
Walpole 1997). First, Buffalo Horn was killed on 
June 6th in an encounter with armed Silver City, 
Idaho civilians. About two weeks later, the Paiute 
leader, Egan, who had filled his moccasins, died 
in another fight within his own Malheur Reserva- 
tion in eastern Oregon. As the hostile Indians then 
fell under the leadership of a Paiute medicine man 
named Oytes, the Bannocks and Paiutes split into 
smaller bands, but Oytes finally surrendered on 
August 12th. This left a greatly reduced group of 
primarily Bannock rebels still at large. 

Pursued by forces under various U.S. mili- 
tary officers, these Indians rustled livestock and 
exchanged glancing blows with soldiers as they 
bolted for the east. In late August a group that now 
amounted to no more than sixty to seventy 
Bannocks sought their old familiar entry ways into 
Yellowstone National Park (This is apparently 
when the J.H. Schoenberger Jr. party, touring 
through the park and enjoying a hot spring inter- 
lude, were spotted by "a party of Bannack Indi- 
ans," and barely escaped a repeat performance of 
the Nez Perce encounter a year before; all the In- 
dians got were two buffalo robes, scooped up with- 
out even dismounting, before disappearing into the 
woods — Bozeman Avant Courier Nov. 28, 1878). 
The Indians headed over Targhee Pass and across 
the Madison and the Gardner rivers, then rode up 
the Lamar Valley and eventually dropped down 
the Sunlight Basin to camp along a sharp bend 
where the Clark's Fork emerges onto the Bighorn 
Basin — about a mile from today's Belfry-to-Cody 

Road. Meanwhile, embarked upon his own lei- 
surely pack trip towards Yellowstone National 
Park, the famous Indian fighter, General Nelson 
A. Miles got word of the Bannock uprising, and 
instantly transformed from tourist to commander. 
Driving his troops hard towards the Heart Moun- 
tain area so that they could position an ambush 
from some piney hills near Bennett Creek, on Sep- 
tember 4th Miles gave the order for a surprise at- 
tack on the unsuspecting Bannocks, who were 
defeated and scattered within two hours (Walpole 

By the time Miles had corralled about 250 
Indian horses and 32 prisoners, buried the dead 
and cared for the wounded, the Bannock breakout 
had cost around 80 Indian lives at least, about 40 
non-Indian casualties, and a bill to the U.S. Trea- 
sury of over $556,000. But it had also cost the park 
another blow to its aspirations as a safe and secure 
tourist attraction. This new flurry of military ac- 
tivity in and around the plateau only reinforced a 
general uneasiness that the region was not entirely 
purged of its potentially dangerous original inhab- 

As for the captured insurgents, some were 
marched to Fort Brown (later Ft. Washakie), oth- 
ers were dispersed to "allotments within the Terri- 
tories," while a handful escaped only to ultimately 
wend their way to Fort Hall to blend in with their 
resident fellow tribespeople (Thompson and Th- 
ompson 1982:107-109). For the military, however, 
the Bannock affair was perhaps more of a public 
relations success than a military triumph. For af- 
ter the larger Sioux campaigns of 1876 and 1877, 
this outbreak cinched the arguments made by Gen- 
eral Sheridan and others that their depleted forces 
needed significant reinforcement; by 1879 new 
appropriations of money and manpower for the 
military were pouring into the northern Plains 
(Burlingame 1942: 242-244) 

3. The Sheep Eater War of 1879. One year 
after the Bannock War a much smaller band of 
Idaho Shoshoneans, known as "Mountain Snakes" 
or Sheep Eaters, who lived along the Salmon River, 
got embroiled in what became officially listed as 
a "trouble," or the "Sheepeater Campaign." Al- 
though the government's problems with these 
Sheep Eaters involved those who resided in cen- 
tral Idaho, and not the Wyoming-Montana hunt- 

Chapter 4. Shoshone. Bannock and Nez Perce 187 

ers of high-altitude mammals, as mentioned in 
Chapter 3, any Shoshonean bands known by that 
name, such as had resided in Yellowstone National 
Park, would be stigmatized through association 
because of this conflict. Of this particular group 
of Sheep Eaters it is said they had greater affini- 
ties with the Plateau rather than with the Great 
Basin culture area, and a number of them had taken 
up horses and buffalo hunting, although Madsen 
maintains that they "hunted buffalo in a seasonal 
cycle different from the Fort Hall pattern" (Madsen 
1980:19). Long after other Shoshones settled on 
reservations, "a small remnant of culturally con- 
servative Sheep Eaters kept up their old mountain 
life" (Madsen 1980:19). 

Triggers for these troubles were the killing 
of five Chinese on Loon Creek, a tributary of the 
Middle Fork of the Salmon River, and the discov- 
ery of two dead white settlers on the river's South 
Fork. While it was rumored around Bonanza, 
Idaho, that the Chinese murders may have been 
the work of whites disguised as Indians, it was the 
white deaths which prompted General O. O. 
Howard to investigate. Apparently Howard had 
already been itching to subdue what was said to 
be the last holdout of hostiles from the Bannock 
War along the Middle Fork of the Salmon (Corless 
1990:116-117). But even according to Col. W. C. 
Brown, who was second in command during the 
Sheep Eater episode, the local Indians had some 
justification for resisting military intrusion into 
their country: 

They [the Salmon River Sheep Eaters] had 
been in this unexplored and almost inac- 
cessible region for generations, with ap- 
parently no hostility to the Whites, and they 
might be there now but for the fact that in 
an evil day they were joined by a few refu- 
gees from the Bannock War of 1878, and it 
seems probable that the murders of the 
Chinamen at Oro Grande (Casto) and 
[Hugh] John and [Peter] Dorsey on the 
South Fork of the Salmon in May were 
instigated by these new additions to the 
small tribe. 

The real Sheepeaters. the old residents. 
resented [Lieutenant Henry] Catley's in- 

vasion. He was trespassing on their coun- 
trj theirs and their ancestors before them 

from time immemorial. They fought to re- 
pel the invader — and who would not 
[Brown 1926:14]? 

Looked at today, the episode seems more like 
a mopping-up police action than a major military 
campaign, with soldiers guided by Umatilla In- 
dian scouts being led into the isolated, rough coun- 
try of today's Frank Church River of No Return 
Wilderness Area. When Indian snipers managed 
to pick off one trooper, the Boise newspaper edi- 
torialized, "These Indians are enemies to mankind, 
and have no more right to live than Guerilla high- 
way men. To shoot them down would be an act of 
justice to the human family" {Idaho Statesmen, 
September 25, 1879, p. 3). The evasive Indians 
seized every opportunity to ambush their pursuers 
until eventually, finally flushed out family by fam- 
ily, the government had accumulated forty-four 
"prisoners of war." As it turned out, the mounted 
troops and their Indian mercenaries had been pur- 
suing an enemy force whose entire artillery con- 
sisted of four carbines, one breech-loading and two 
muzzle-loading rifles, and a double-barreled shot- 
gun (Janetski 1987:54, citing Madsen 1979: 104). 
Nor did this campaign conquer all of these con- 
servative Salmon River Sheep Eaters, for accord- 
ing to Madsen, "Eagle Eye's band of Sheep Eaters 
finally settled in Dry Buck Basin in the Payette 
River country until the end of the nineteenth cen- 
tury before relinquishing their independent exist- 
ence as nonreservation Indians" (Madsen 1979:24). 

Discouraging Indians in 
Yellowstone National Park 

The rolling sputter of Indian-white hostili- 
ties during this 1877-79 period seemed to bear out 
earlier worries by park officials that the presence 
of Native Americans might be "a potential deter- 
rent to tourist traffic in the Park." as Joel C. Janetski 
has phrased it (Janetski 1987:54). Whether one 
more aptly described these outbursts as "out- 
breaks" or "police actions" rather than full-fledged 
wars, local rumors and newspaper reports of the 
conflicts lent credibility to the spectre of Indian 
marauders lurking behind every Yellowstone tree 
and mountain. To minimize such bad publicity in 
the wake of the admittedly lethal Nez Perce ac- 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Figure 4.9. Map ofNez Perce and Bannock-Paiute Wars (adapted from Frontier Regulars: The United States 
Army and the Indian, 1866-1891 by Robert M. Vtley, University of Nebraska Press, 1973, p. 302). 

tions, for his effort at damage control second Su- 
perintendent Philetus W. Norris drew upon ques- 
tionable data about Indians and the park: 

The lamentable Indian raid, burning of 
houses, bridges, and massacre of innocent 
tourists within the park, soon after my leav- 
ing there, is as anomalous as unexpected; 
the first, and probably the last of the kind, 
as it is wholly aside from all Indian routes, 
and only chosen in the desperation of re- 
treat by the Nez Perces, who have acquired 
sufficient civilization and Christianity to 
at least overpower their pagan superstitious 
fear of earthly fire-hole basins and brim- 
stone pits [Norris 1877:842]. 

For a number of reasons Norris' efforts at 
public reassurance are interesting. First, they can be 
seen as the opening salvo in what Janetski has called 
"the very effective campaign to characterize the 
park as taboo to the 'superstitious' indigenous 
peoples" which will be explored in depth in the 
following chapter (Janetski 1987:85). Of this per- 

sonal crusade, historian Mark Spence has written: 

...Norris believed the best course of ac- 
tion lay in convincing "all the surrounding 
tribes... that they can visit the park [only] 
at the peril of a conflict with ... the civil and 
military officers of the government" 
(Norris 1879:985). To these ends he ar- 
ranged to have the last resident Sheepeater 
groups moved to the Wind River reserva- 
tion in Wyoming where they would be sub- 
ject to the authority of the Bureau of In- 
dian Affairs. Norris also traveled at his own 
expense to Washington in the spring of 1880 
to influence a series of negotiations then 
underway between the U.S. and the Crow, 
Shoshone, Bannock, and Sheepeaters re- 
garding certain land cessations and railroad 
rights of way. He arrived too late to influ- 
ence the final agreements between the gov- 
ernment and the various tribes, but his con- 
cerns about Indian use of the national park 
were made clear to the Crow and Wind 
River Shoshone. Norris believed his big- 

Chapter 4. Shoshone, Bannock and Nez Perce 


gest problem lay with the Indians of the 
Fort Hall and Lemhi reservations, however, 
and he traveled directly from Washington 
to Idaho to personally elicit a "solemn 
promise from all [the] Indians to abide by 
the terms of their treaty in Washington, and 
also that thereafter they would not enter 
the park" [Norris 1881:3; P.W. Norris to R.E. 
Trowbridge, April 26, 1880, Record Group 
75, Records of the Bureau of Indian Af- 
fairs, "Letters Received by the Office of 
Indian Affairs, 1824-183 1" [Microfilm Se- 
ries M234, Roll 352, Frame 322]; Norris 
to Carl Schurz, June 221, 1880; Norris to 
Harry Yount, June 2 1 , 1880, Record Group 
48, "Records of the Office of the Secre- 
tary of the Interior Relating to Yellowstone 
National Park" [Microfilm Series M62, 
Roll 1, Frames 288-9] [Spence 1997:3-4]. 

Secondly, Norris' comments on the heels of 
the Nez Perce affair are historically significant 
because here was also the first time that a highly 
placed park official publically invoked any knowl- 
edge about the inner workings of Indian culture in 
order to exploit the stereotype that Indians in gen- 
eral were afraid of the park because of their be- 
liefs concerning its thermal features. Thirdly, 
Norris also drew upon some historical knowledge 
of Nez Perce history in particular, for he appar- 
ently was aware that French (and Iroquois) Catho- 
lic missionaries had successfully converted sig- 
nificant numbers of the tribe in the early 1800s — 
which was when the group's leader, Joseph, had 
received his own name. But quite possibly Norris 
was ignorant of the fact that these particular Nez 
Perce marauders belonged to the defiantly anti- 
Christian faction which had come under the influ- 
ence of the Plateau Prophet movement. To these 
hostiles Christianity was anathema; they were in 
the process of consciously reviving those "pagan" 
beliefs which restored powers to the very Mother 
Earth whose actions were so awesomely apparent 
in the park. And fourth and finally, despite his er- 
roneous comment that the Nez Perce escapees had 
blazed a brand new trail, Norris would grow fas- 
cinated with the density of archaeological remains 
in the park, and evidence of widespread "Indian 
routes" through the region, especially the well- 
traveled thoroughfare followed by the Nez Perce 
and which would be used again by Bannock ren- 

egades over the following year. 

Norris attempts to reassure visitors that the 
park was purged of Indians were echoed by at least 
one popular writer, and proved to be a bit prema- 
ture. Since the Nez Perce and Bannock-Sheep 
Eater disturbances, wrote tourist George W. 
Wingate in 1886 after he and his wife rode horse- 
back through the park, "the Indian difficulty has 
been cured, the Indians have been forced back on 
their distant reservations, and the traveller in the 
park will see or hear no more of them that if he 
was in the Adirondacks or White Mountains" 
(Wingate 1886:140). Yet when a Billings Gazette 
correspondent visited John Yancey's well-known 
stopover ranch near the mouth of present-day 
Yancey's Creek in February of 1887, the story he 
heard about some Bannock families still passing 
through the park's northwestern corner sounds like 
a visitation from an earlier era. His informants were 
Vic Smith, an old-time scout and buffalo hunter, 
and Dick Rock, a bronc rider and they were re- 
calling an event at their hunting camp on 
Hellroaring Creek located northeast of today's 
Tower Junction. Despite the obvious racial slurs 
and insulting characterizations of Indians in the 
following article that appeared on the newspaper's 
front page, it is a confirmation of the Bannock use 
of trails in the park, even in wintertime, and their 
continuing reliance on dogs for transport. 

About a month ago [January 1887] it seems 
that a dozen Bannock Indians and squaws 
passed this camp with toboggans on which 
they had meat, hides and papooses attached 
and dogs harnessed to haul with. The Indi- 
ans, not receiving much of a welcome, they 
soon struck out. About half an hour after 
they passed on, one large dog returned 
bringing his sled with a pappoose strapped 
on it. Some poison had been distributed 
around the shack to kill magpies. Of course 
the dog took a lunch of the same and soon 

The boys had a friend from St. Paul so- 
journing with them. He went out and un- 
hitched the sled from the defunct and 
brought the sled in, as it was bitter cold, 
and excavated the kid from the blankets 
and skins in which he was wrapped. It soon 
commenced to cry and as none of them had 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Figure 4.10. Indian 
"wars " along the 
western flank of 
Yellowstone National 
Park have influenced 
popular thinking about 
the historical role of 
Yellowstone 's Indians 
down to the present 
day. This cover of a 
pulp western novel set 
in the park features 
warlike Indians and 
the U.S. cavalry 
company assigned to 
drive them out (Easy 
Company in Colter's 
Hell, by John Wesley 
Howard. Jove 
Publications, New 
York, 1891). 

even been a father or mother they were in 
a dilemma. A bacon rind and then a sugar 
teat were given it, but it was no go, for the 
squalling still continued. The St. Paulite 
tapped his Henry Clay forehead (more clay 
than Henry) and cried "Eureka," and 
rushed out and unchained a large New- 
foundland canine of the female persuasion, 
belong to Rock, and led her in, while Vic 
carried the two pups, and Rock was walk- 
ing the floor with young Lo [a derogatory 
epithet for Indians of this period, derived 
from the phrase, "Lo, the Poor Indian"] and 
singing, "baby mine." The dog was 
muzzled and thrown down on the marble 

floor, and the two pups and young ab- 
origine scrambled for the fullest teats. By 
a unanimous vote they called the kid 

In about an hour the squaw returned and 
claimed the maverick. As the boys did not 
have the youngster branded they cheerfully 
parted with it [Billings Gazette, Wednes- 
day, March 2, 1887, p. 1]. 

Despite the public relations efforts of Norris 
and his successors to downplay the cultural and 
historical roles of different Indian groups in the 
park area, and their quieter strategy of pressuring 

Chapter 4. Shoshone. Bannock and Nez Perce 


the relevant Indian agencies to keep their native 
charges under stricter surveillance, the western 
Indians in particular had minds and needs of their 
own. In 1886 the U.S. Army assumed control over 
the park in order to stop any and all manner of 
threats to its protected animals and forests. No 
sooner was its first military superintendent, Cap- 
tain Moses A. Harris, at his new desk, however, 
than his annoyance fixated on these western Indi- 
ans for repeatedly trespassing into the park to camp 
and hunt and set fires. Before long Harris' irritated 
missives to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 
the Secretary of the Interior, various reservation 
agents, as well as to concerned conservationists 
had ignited something of a bureaucratic name-call- 
ing controversy, while also arousing popular east- 
ern magazines such as Forest and Stream and 
Frank Leslie 's Illustrated to write alarmingly in 
1889 about "Indian marauders" in Yellowstone (see 
discussion and citations from October 1997 ver- 
sion of Mark Spence essay, entitled "First Wilder- 
ness: Indian Removal from Yellowstone"). 

As Spence has learned, fears of Bannocks 
on the loose in Yellowstone National Park would 
be heard well into the 1890s. Indeed, it was to 
counter these "invasions of Indians" cutting across 
the southwestern corner of the park in order to hunt 
elk in Jackson Hole that a cluster of white vigilan- 
tes conspired, as the Commissioner of Indian Af- 
fairs later put it, "to kill some Indians and thus stir 
up sufficient trouble to subsequently get United 
States troops into the region..." (Annual Report 
of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. 1894 [Gov- 
ernment Printing Office, Washington, 1895], 63- 
68, 76-77). Spence summarizes what happened 

When a large posse arrested some thirty 
Bannock from the Fort Hall reservation in 
1893. killing one and seriously injuring sev- 
eral others, their actions did far more than 
bring troops in to quell an Indian uprising 
that never happened. Within a year the 
Supreme Court would become involved in 
the question of native rights to hunt off- 
reservation in the state of Wyoming, and 
decided firmly in favor of the Jackson Hole 
residents. In the case of Ward v Race Horse, 
the Court ruled that all treaties guarantee- 
ing native rights to hunt on public lands 

were predicated on "the disappearance of 
those [public lands]." Consequently, a 
posse could enforce state laws that banned 
native hunters from lands expected to be 
settled sometime in the future. While it is 
not clear whether Yellowstone officials lob- 
bied the court, they were certainly pleased 
with the ruling since it effectively restricted 
the Shoshone and Bannock to their reser- 
vations under penalty of law [Spence 
1997: 10, and his lengthier treatment in his 
subsection, "The First Cavalry to the Res- 
cue," Spence 1999:62-70; see also Ward, 
Sheriff v. Race Horse, May 25, 1986, Su- 
preme Court Reporter, vol 16, pp. 1076- 

The impact of this case upon the historical 
legacy of American Indian relations with Yellow- 
stone National Park, and it wider consequences 
for Indian peoples in general, derived from the fact 
that this was when U.S. Supreme Court Associate 
Justice Edward Douglas White employed legisla- 
tion which had established the park in the first place 
"as the legal foundation for any efforts to keep 
Indians off public lands" (Spence 1999:68). Al- 
though smaller groups of Indians would continue 
to slip clandestinely in and out of the park for vari- 
ous traditional reasons over the following years, 
the Ward v. Race Horse verdict would provide state 
and federal agencies with a definitive legal prece- 
dent for preventing Indians from leaving their res- 
ervations across the west, and for keeping them 
out of public lands like Yellowstone National park 
(Hairing 1994:204-206). 

Greater Yellowstone in Far 
Western Indian Memories 

The shadow of historical conflict and inter- 
ethnic distrust between tribes on the western and 
northwestern boundaries of Yellowstone National 
Park and Anglo-Americans continues to color com- 
munications and mutual understanding between 
the two peoples in Idaho and Wyoming. The back- 
drop of intense hostilities and rampant frontier 
settlement, unratified treaties and territorial evic- 
tions described in this chapter seem to have left 
their mark on present-day attitudes of Indians to- 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

wards the federal government and its authorities. 
Initially, for instance, our letters requesting per- 
mission to talk with members of the official cul- 
ture committee of the Shoshone-Bannocks at the 
Fort Hall Indian Reservation in the spring of 1994, 
and to commence interviews for this project, were 
frustrated. Before Indian representatives at Fort 
Hall would agree to any discussions, they insisted 
upon a face-to-face meeting with Yellowstone 
National Park Superintendent, Michael Finley. 
Two Yellowstone National Park staff (Laura Joss, 
then-Chief of Cultural Resources and Susan Kraft, 
Curator) traveled to Fort Hall to meet with tribal 
representatives and provide assistance with the Fort 
Hall Museum. Superintendent Finley met with 
tribal representatives at Fort Hall in November, 

This meeting issue aside, it was extremely 
hard to convince Indian officials and residents from 
both the Wind River and Fort Hall communities 
that they might have anything to gain from par- 
ticipating in a government-sponsored, fact-find- 
ing project on a federally owned and protected 
landscape from which they felt estranged and 
which never seemed to welcome their presence. 
During the time left for the ethnographic survey, 
however, project consultants Dr. Sharon Kahin 
and Jan Nixon were able to obtain interviews with 
knowledgeable Fort Hall elders. As mentioned in 
the introduction, another consequence of the hun- 
dred-plus years of enforced unfamiliarity between 
these tribes and the park has been the gradual ero- 
sion of tribal memory regarding any stories and 
traditions that fall under our category of "ethno- 
graphic resources." 

/. Oral Narratives: Myths and Tales. Espe- 
cially rare to elicit from Northern Shoshoneans 
were examples of traditional narrative genres re- 
lating to the greater Yellowstone region. However, 
consultant DS, an 89-year-old Bannock woman, 
who was born in a tipi on Ross Creek in Idaho, 
did share what apparently was a widespread 
Shoshonean narrative about the old woman with 
the basket of salmon, and the creation of certain 
landscape features — in this case for the origin of 
certain drop-offs and obstructions along the Snake 
and Columbia rivers. This account would seem to 
belong to the category of Shoshonean narrative 
which tribespeople themselves knew as 

/ ap nabeguyap, or "stories about the coyote" 
(Hultkrantz 1972:345). As she began: 

There's a lot of stories but I can't remem- 
ber. When my grandpa and all of them 
started telling stories, I didn't pay atten- 
tion to them. . .About this old lady with her 
basket. Had salmon in it. That Fox kept 
going around and she told him, leave it 
alone. Finally, he tipped it over, and that's 
where that river started, came down there. 
That Fox kept running, and that water fol- 
lowed him all the way, everywhere he 
went, it followed him, and that's what the 
Snake River started... Oh [remembering 
more details], the Fox carried that basket 
trying to hold the water back, and every 
time the water go over, and that's what 
Idaho Falls dam, American Falls dam, 
Shoshone Dam, all that was caused by from 
that he'd trying to hold that basket, you 
know, so water won't go over it, then wa- 
ter make falls. Then he'd go another way, 
and he'd try it, and that make American 
Falls and Shoshone Falls. Finally, he got 
tired way down then and he just threw that 
basket in the river. That's what's sitting in 
the middle of Columbia River or Snake 
River [DS Interview December 15, 1995]. 

Not surprisingly, it was through a man who 
happened to be a direct ancestor of our Bannock 
consultant that Robert Lowie, during his career's 
inaugural field trip for New York's American 
Museum of Natural History in 1909, was able to 
collect two other versions of this same story at 
Idaho's Lemhi Reservation. The first version takes 
place "below Teton Basin" (Lowie 1909:278) and 
the protagonist is Coyote rather than Fox. As Coy- 
ote upsets the old woman's willow fish basket, he 
frees the salmon. Then he performs the second 
important deed, which is to erect two rocks "be- 
low Ross Fork" creek, so that they could not de- 
scend any farther, and he instructs the salmon that 
they must now come upstream every spring. 

In Lowie's second version, the old woman 
treats Coyote to his first taste of salmon flesh, 
whereupon he first steps on the basket to spill out 
its fish and then constructs the dam. Only this sec- 
ond version follows the Bannock account above, 
in that "the water broke the dam," causing Coyote 
to frantically run downstream and create another 

Chapter 4. Shoshone, Bannock and Nez Perce 193 

dam. After this, he instructs the salmon, "Every 
spring you must go up the mountains and spawn" 
(Lowie 1909:278). 

But perhaps the most elaborated version of 
this basic narrative was collected in 1953 from a 
Northern Shoshone named Ralph Dixey, who was 
then living in southeastern Idaho. Dixey related 
the narrative to popular folklorist Ella E. Clark who 
added in the published version that Dixey's wife, 
a Bannock, had also heard the story from mem- 
bers of her family. Unlike the foregoing variants, 
it directly draws topographic features of Yellow- 
stone National Park into its narrative. Here is the 
Dixey narrative: 

Long ago there was no river in this part of 
the country. No Snake River ran through 
the land. During that time a man came up 
from the south. No one knows what kind 
of person he was, except that among his 
people he was always nosing around, al- 
ways sticking his nose into everything. 

He came through this valley, traveled north 
past Teton, and then went up on a moun- 
tain in what is now called the Yellowstone 
country. He looked around there and soon 
found an old lady's camp. She had a big 
basket offish in water — all kinds offish — 
and the man was hungry. So he said to her, 
"I am hungry. Will you boil some fish for 

"Yes, I will cook some for you," the old 
lady answered. "But don't bother my fish."' 
she warned, as she saw him looking into 
the basket. 

But he did not obey her. While she was 
busy cooking, he kept nosing around, kept 
monkeying around. At last he stepped on 
the edge of the basket and spilled the fish. 
The water spread all over. 

The man ran fast, ahead of the water, and 
tried to stop it. He piled some rocks up 
high, in order to hold the waters hack. But 
the water broke his dam and rushed over 
the rocks. That's where Upper Yellowstone 
Falls arc now. The man ran ahead of the 
water again, and again he tried to stop it. 
Four or five miles below Yellowstone Falls 
he built another pile of rocks. But that 

didn't hold the water back either. The rush 
of water broke that dam, too. That's where 
Lower Yellowstone Falls are today. The 
water kept on rushing and formed the Yel- 
lowstone River. 

Then the man ran to the opposite side of 
the fish basket, to the other side of the water 
emptying from it. He built another dam 
down the valley where Idaho Falls are now. 
By the time he got there, the flood had be- 
come bigger and swifter. And so, though 
the man built a big dam, the water broke it 
and rushed on down the valley. 

Again he ran, overtook the water, and built 
another dam. "Here's where I'm going to 
stop it," he said to himself. But the water 
had become bigger and bigger, swifter and 
swifter. So it broke that dam and left the 
American Falls where they are today. 

The man rushed ahead and built two piles 
of rocks in the form of a half-circle, one 
pile where Shoshone Falls are now and one 
where Twin Falls are now. "I'll really stop 
the water this time," he said to himself. But 
the water filled the dam, broke it. and 
rushed over the rocks in giant waterfalls. 

The man ran ahead, down to near where 
Huntington, Oregon, is today. There the 
valley narrows into a canyon. "Here's 
where I'll stop the water," he said, "here 
between these high hills." 

So he built a dam and walked along on top 
of it, singing and whistling. He was sure 
he had stopped the water this time. He 
watched it coming toward him. sure that 
he would soon see it stop. It filled the dam. 
broke it, and rushed on down the canyon. 
Hell's Canyon, its called today. 

Just before the dam broke, the man climbed 
up on top o\' the canyon wall. 

"I give up," he said, as he watched the 
water rush through the gorge. "I won't 
build any more dams. They don't stop that 

After the river left Hell's Canyon, it be- 
came wide again and very swift. The wa- 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

ter went on down to Big River and then on 
down to the ocean, taking with it the big 
fish that had spilled out of the old lady's 
basket. That's why we have only small fish 
up here. Salmon and sturgeon were carried 
on down to the ocean, and they have never 
been able to get back up here because of 
the waterfalls. Salmon used to come up as 
far as Twin Falls, a long time ago, but they 
don't come now. 

The big fish basket that the man tipped over 
is Yellowstone Lake. The water that he 
spilled ran off in two directions. Some of 
it made the Snake River, as I have told you, 
and finally reached the Columbia and the 
Pacific. Some of it ran the other way and 
made the Yellowstone River and then 
reached the Missouri River. 

Who was the old lady with the basket of 
water and fish? She was Mother Earth. 
Who was the man who wanted to see ev- 
erything, who was always sticking his nose 
into everything? He was Ezeppa, or Coy- 
ote [Clark 1966: 174-177]. 

What is curious about Dixey's fuller version 
of the origin of the Snake and Yellowstone Rivers 
is how it seems to be a reversal of other Plateau 
narratives in which the protagonist Coyote — the 
"man from the south," the narratives say, as if to 
emphasize that this is a Shoshonean and not a 
Salish or Sahaptin Coyote— is involved with maxi- 
mizing the fishing opportunities for his Indian 
people. Now in all of these stories we are witness- 
ing Coyote in his role as Transformer and protec- 
tor of Indians, the aspect of Coyote's multiple per- 
sonality which the scholar William Bright de- 
scribes as "Coyote the Brocoleur," when the more 
positive accomplishments of the trickster figure 
may include "the slaying of monsters, the theft of 
natural resources for the benefit of man, the teach- 
ing of cultural skills, and the ordaining of laws" 
(Bright 1993:35). Folklorist Jarold Ramsey sets 
such activities in the middle stage of the three 
loosely defined and overlapping time periods of 
Plateau Indian narratives — the Myth Age, the Age 
of Transformation, and the Historical Age (Ramsey 

But in most Plateau stories where Coyote is 

meddling with dams in the Age of Transformation 
for the benefit of his Indian people, his efforts are 
either devoted to unsuccessfully securing salmon 
for those "dawn people" on the eastern side of the 
Continental Divide who lack the benefit of well- 
stocked streams (Miller et al. 1974:16-19) or to 
tearing down preexisting obstructions so that west- 
ern "sunset" Indians can have access to the spawn- 
ing runs of salmon and other fish. In the Nez Perce 
version of "Coyote Breaks the Fish Dam at Celilo," 
for instance, Coyote is en route from fishing coun- 
try of the plateau to the buffalo-hunting country 
of Montana and stops at a waterfall along the Snake 
River. When he breaks a fish dam used by five 
sisters, he admonishes them: 

"You have deprived all the people of 
salmon and fish for such a long time by 
keeping them from going upstream. Now 
the people will be happy to get the salmon. 
Now salmon will go straight upriver and 
spawn, and the people will have salmon to 
eat"... This is how Celilo [Oregon] origi- 
nated, where the Wasco people are today. 
Because Coyote tore down the fish dams, 
salmon could come upriver and spawn 
[Walker 1994:49]. 

As if Coyote were attuned to the different 
ecological niches in which different tribes find 
themselves, however, in the Dixey and Lowie vari- 
ants above he tries unsuccessfully to engineer the 
exact opposite effect. On behalf of these Shoshone 
or Bannock ancestors of the higher altitudes he 
tries to construct a series of lasting dams that will 
contain what precious fish Indians could find in 
these upstream, more mountainous regions. As 
with the reversals and inversions which the French 
anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss says are quite 
common among the Sahaptin-speaking Nez Perce, 
whose intermediate geographical position between 
"true" Plateau and Plains cultures is expressed in 
the fluctuating symbols of their stories, so here 
we may be seeing another subtle reflection of the 
attempt by Shoshoneans to rationalize why their 
high country contains smaller and fewer fish than 
those enjoyed by both the Salish and Sahaptins 
farther downstream — and at the same time pro- 
viding an explanation for distinguishing features 
of the landscape that would become Yellowstone 

Chapter 4. Shoshone. Bannock and Nez Perce 195 

National Park (Levi-Strauss 1987:64-67). 

2. Oral Narratives: Encounters with Gov- 
ernment Officials. In the following accounts we 
do not make an effort to ascertain "historical truth," 
since these Indian memories of glancing encoun- 
ters with government officials would probably 
have no evidentiary confirmation in the archival 
record. And even if they did, that would be beside 
the point. For they constitute part of the neglected 
"attitudinal history" that forms much of the "eth- 
nographic resources" associated with the greater 
Yellowstone ecosystem, and provide some ne- 
glected Indian commentary on the background of 
Indian-white relations in the region which this re- 
port is dedicated to improve. 

One of our principal Fort Hall consultants, 
for instance, GE, a 63-year-old woman, described 
her memories of the gathering of yampa root in 
the area "starting from the Tetons clear up into Tog- 
wotee and clear up into Montana," and added qui- 
etly that "people still gather it when they know 
they are not going to get caught." To illustrate the 
conflict between her people and government au- 
thorities she provided the following family anec- 

See, my grandmother used to do that and 
we got chased out one time. We were gath- 
ering over in West Yellowstone. It was back 
up in those mountains over there and we 
were gathering yampa. She was sitting on 
the ground and she had me with the shovel. 
She said I know we are going to get caught 
so hurry up. So I dug as much as I could 
and she sat down. Then she said put the 
shovel down. So I put the shovel down and 
she was sitting there with her back to the 
road. She was maybe fifty feet away from 
the road, the main highway. She was sit- 
ting there, she was just cleaning them and 
putting them in a sack. I said Grandma, 
here comes a ranger. She said don't say 
anything. Pretend like you can't understand 
him. I said o.k. So I sat down with her and 
we were sitting there and he asked us what 
we were doing? Grandma looked at him. 
He kept talking to me and I just sat there 
and looked at him too. Then finally he 
motioned us to gel off and go. She used to 
do some goofy things. I swear, but thai is 
what we were doing. We were gathering 

some yampa, because we were going to 
bring it home [Interview, GE. November 
18, 1995]. 

This prompted further discussion of relations 
between the park and her people. Another of our 
Fort Hall female consultants, LV, recalled a woman 
named Circle Forehead who had been a Bannock 
and had helped raise her "like my grandmother" 
(Interview LV, November 18. 1995). Without speci- 
fying whether the following anecdote transpired 
within or outside park boundaries, she described 
her mother's recollection of an occasion when this 
Bannock woman and her mother were picking 

They went in the buggy with all of us kids, 
mother used to always pick up orphan kids 
too, put them under her wing and take them 
too. Here was this white man, and he said, 
'You Indians get out of here. Get out of 
here.' Oh she was angry with him for tell- 
ing them to leave. She told him in broken 
English, she said, 'this was our land, our 
place before you came. Before you came 
this was ours, these were our berries. They 
are still our berries.' Mother said she just 
went into a rage. She was this nice. tall, 
good-looking Bannock lady. Mother said 
they went on picking the berries but then 
not to cause any trouble they left. My 
mother used to pull that same trick that her 
[GE] grandmother pulled. Non-Indians 
would come to the place and ask questions. 
this or that or whatever, and she would just 
sit there with her Indian face. Sorry, she 
didn't know a word, not a thing that they 
were talking about. She could talk Bannock 
fluently, Shoshone fluently, and English 
fluently, [but] she always pulled that 'No 
Savvy' [Interview, LV. November 18. 
1995 1 . 

Another interview, with a male consultant. 
CN. also from Fort Hall, yielded fragmented. bro- 
ken-English memories of unpleasant interactions 
between Indians from the region and government 
officials (Interview CN, November 18, 1995). In- 
deed, he grew visibly upset when he recollected 
that "They wouldn't let Indians hunt any place, 
just the white people, that's the only thing." As for 
his own experiences. "[I] never been to park to 
stop — just traveled through. . .get off like the white 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

people, walk around." But "its too slow going 
through there. . .Uncle went through once long time 
ago, he's lucky...". But he also remembered that 
"a lot of Indians stopped going when they made 
them pay. Prior to that we used to go. . .certain times 
of year to gather but seems like we were always 
going to Yellowstone, two or three times in sum- 
mertime, spring and fall. All we had to do was 
show the blue card from the superintendent. . .But 
after they started charging everybody, people kind 
of stopped going — another government promise 

Lastly, the 89-year-old Bannock consultant 
who related the story of the old woman and the 
fish basket, DS, also had a family memory that, 
she maintained, illustrated why "People got so they 
didn't want to go out there anymore [towards the 
Yellowstone region] because they got scared. This 
one whole family was killed... After that people 
sneak around but they won't go out in the open. 
Whole tribe found out about it and they were afraid 
to go back and hunt." The event is said to have 
taken place around Jackson, when the consultant's 
mother was about five years old: 

One time a man came at night and he had a 
little baby with him. He told them, "I just 
came from my camp had the white men 
just killed all my family, all of them. I came 
late from hunting," he said, "and I saw their 
dead bodies laying around so I sneaked 
away. I was afraid and as I was coming I 
heard a little baby crying in a cradleboard 
hanging in a tree. You fellas were the clos- 
est so I came here" [Interview, DS, Decem- 
ber 15, 1995]. 

The consultant recalled that her mother re- 
membered, "So we packed up the same night. We 
just packed everything [and] traveled by night, hid 
by day, no fire, anything." The young girls were 
tied behind the horses and hidden in the packs... 
"[They] hid and traveled until they reached 
Monspelon, [where] they stayed with Mormons 
who... were very good to us, that's how we got 
away from there." 

3. Gathering Mineral Resources in the 
Park. It remains for this section to close with a 
discussion of the minerals which Indians might 
have collected within the greater Yellowstone eco- 

system. Primarily, of course, these refer to Yel- 
lowstone obsidian. Of Nez Perce rock gathering, 
Deward E. Walker Jr. claims that: 

They regard the park as a healthy place, 
they went there, they took the baths, they 
gathered certain kinds of obsidian in that 
vicinity. I can't tell you exactly where, but 
there's some pretty decent obsidian in the 
park area [Interview, Deward E. Walker Jr., 
April 2, 1997]. 

The Shoshone-Bannock also used obsidian, 
although for additional purposes to projectile 
points, as one consultant from Fort Hall ex- 

I know she [an older healer] used obsidian 
to poke your head with, because that is 
what she did for my headaches. She kept it 
very carefully. She had a little tin, like used 
to have chocolates in a long time ago, she 
always carried it in that. She had about four 
or five different sizes and shapes that she 
used to poke heads with. . .poke your head 
in different areas to drain the blood. . .It was 
her specialty to do that to other people. Just 
special people did that. . .Finally, something 
started dripping, like this color [dark blue] 
came out. Big blots, she kept pressing my 
head like that and pretty soon it started 
flowing, red [Interview, GE, Fort Hall, 
November 18, 1995]. 

During our Fort Hall interviews the topic of 
obsidian periodically cropped up in unexpected 
ways. Women recalled hearing older Shoshone- 
Bannock men complaining "about not being able 
to go into that [park] area to get [obsidian] — mainly 
for skinning — because they said that you couldn't 
control the [metal] knives because they would cut 
the skin. But the obsidian was good because you 
didn't cut the skin like the knives did." In another 
interview, after sharing her version of the old 
woman and the basket of fish narrative given 
above, the Bannock storyteller said that after con- 
tracting the eye disease Trachoma at the govern- 
ment boarding school in Sherman, California, she 
was sent home. She recalled that to use the out- 
house she had to keep her hands on a rope espe- 
cially strong to lead her there. Her mother treated 
the disease with grass [described as "wye grass" 
in other interviews, which the Paiutes knew as 

Chapter 4. Shoshone, Bannock and Nez Perce 197 

kawonoo (Murphey 1959:32)] and "powder" made 
from crushed obsidian (Interview, DC, Fort Hall, 
December 15, 1995). 

But the Shoshones and Bannocks exploited 
other Yellowstone rocks as well. 

There were certain rocks that they used for 
certain things were in the park... like for 
doing their hides there were certain rocks. 
They hit them and then they would break 
and then they would clean their hides with 
these rocks. One was for cleaning and the 
other was for going this way [Interview, 
LV, November 18, 1995]. 

Here she seems to be describing different 
lithic bifaces for the two separate tasks of fleshing 
and scraping a skinned, raw buffalo hide. As an- 
other Fort Hall interviewee, GE, added about her 
own grandmother during this same conversation: 

She needed a certain kind of rock to do her 
hides at the certain time of the drying. The 
other rock was for when she was trying to 
get part of the membrane off. [She would 
use] the cold rocks, I call them cold rocks, 

and they would be cold and the warm rocks 
would be kind of warm... the warm rocks 
would be from the heated areas, and the 
cold rocks would be from the Salmon area 
or from the Blackfoot or Snake River where 
they have those boulders. . . . Sometimes the 
rocks that have been heated through the 
geysers or the mud-pots break differently 
from rocks in the cold water that you get 
along the river beds. Sometimes they will 
break like a slice of bread, across a plane. 
Those rocks are generally used for aches 
and pains. If the rock breaks on an angle 
that rock is used for scraping or for grind- 
ing or pounding. Grandma used to teach 
me how to do those things. I haven't done 
those things for a long time so I don't re- 
member [Interview, November 18, 1995]. 

The next chapter is on the Shoshone to the 
south of the park. In it we will highlight exploita- 
tion of ground tubers by tribes within the greater 
Yellowstone ecosystem and discuss spiritual ac- 
tivities — and associated resources — that all rel- 
evant tribes conducted in the region. 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Chapter 5 

the South: Shoshone 

The Indian nation whose relationships with 
the greater Yellowstone ecosystem are the focus 
of this chapter are that eastern branch of the 
Shoshonean people who today occupy the 
2,268,008-acre Wind River Reservation in Fre- 
mont and Hot Springs Counties in west-central 
Wyoming. As discussed in the previous chapter, 
the numerous Shoshonean peoples whose many 
treaties eventually situated them on reservations 
not far from the western and southern boundaries 
of Yellowstone National Park have a complicated 
history. The extensive sway of their linguistic com- 
munity and its dialects, combined with the small- 
scale nature of their autonomous social units and 
their regionally distinctive interactions with Euro- 

Americans, left Shoshoneans scattered across at 
least six states. These Shoshone were closely re- 
lated to the Shoshone-Bannocks, and during the 
treaty-making period of 1863-68 became known 
as the "Washakie band" after their popular chief. 
Today they are officially known as the Eastern 
Shoshone Tribe. Here we will provide an overview 
of their activities in and around the greater Yel- 
lowstone ecosystem, ending with a return to the 
ethnographic associations and historical role of the 
Wind River Reservation as a final refuge for the 
onetime Yellowstone residents, the Sheep Eaters. 

Figure 5.L Indian tipis near Togwotee Pass, c. 1922 (Photo courtesy of Yellowstone National Park Archives, 
catalog #YELL 37784). 

Chapter 5. Sojourners from the South: Shoshone 199 

Southerly Trails into the 
Yellowstone Plateau 

Few dramatic features of landscape announce 
the southern boundary of Yellowstone National 
Park; for many travelers heading towards the park 
any appetite for drama has already been satisfied 
by the awesome skyline of the Grand Tetons and 
their jagged reflection in Jackson Lake. Visitors 
are startled to find themselves suddenly braking 
at the park's southern entrance, since the buffer 
zone outside this edge of the greater Yellowstone 
ecosystem transforms almost imperceptively into 
Yellowstone National Park proper. Intermittently 
gleaming with lakes, but thick with forest, at eye- 
level it can be hard for newcomers to get their bear- 
ings. That is why early travelers relied on Indian 
trails and Indian guides. 

On September 1 st, 1 873, when the military 
engineer Captain William A. Jones and his explor- 
atory party found themselves not far from the 
marshy inlet of the Yellowstone River, where it 
empties into the lake, one of his native guides, a 
Sheep Eater (possibly the famous Togwotee, to be 
profiled below), had no problem remembering "the 
way back to Camp Brown by the head of the Wind 
River" (Jones 1875:39). In fact, throughout Jones' 
summer-long reconnaissance of the park and its 
southeastern environs he was constantly crossing 
back and forth over a tracery of pathways which, 
as mentioned earlier in connection with the 
Bannock Trail, are better perhaps characterized as 
"systems" of trails than as single thoroughfares. 

First off, Jones took pains to describe the 
major network of native routes which wound in 
and out and across Yellowstone National Park 
proper, that commenced at Fort Washakie (known 
until then as Camp Brown) and then followed the 
Wind River Valley nearly to its head. At that point 
the trail crossed the continental divide, and con- 
tinued on to where the Gros Ventre Fork splits from 
the Snake River. According to Jones, it was here 
that the path forked: 

. . .sending one branch down the stream as 
far as Jackson's I Idle, w here it forks in turn, 
one portion leading down the Snake River 
to Fort Hall, and the other, bending sharp 
around to the northeast, follows up Pacific 

and down Atlantic Creeks to the Yellow- 
stone River, down which it follows, pass- 
ing, to the east of Yellowstone Lake, to the 
Crow country in Montana — a branch of it 
following Lewis Fork and the west side of 
the lake and river: the other branch leaves 
the Gros Ventres near its head, and bend- 
ing to the south, crosses a low pass in the 
Wyoming Mountains to the headwaters of 
Green River, which it follows down to the 
open country and thence to Fort Bridger 
[Jones 1875:54]. 

But Jones also learned more about the old 
Indian route to which his Sheep Eater pathfinder 
had apparently referred, an arduous passage that 
required the ascent and descent of two divides. It 
took off from today's Fort Washakie in the direc- 
tion of the North Fork of the Wind River, then 
swung over the headwaters of the Snake River 
until it finally achieved the headwaters of the Yel- 
lowstone, at which time it paralleled the river to 
Yellowstone Lake so as to tie into the first trail 
linkage mentioned above. 

Especially appealing to Jones was a third 
path, apparently of considerable antiquity, which 
led his party into the inviting, secret "park" of Owl 
Creek canyon in the shadow of the Owl Creek 
Mountains. Although surrounded by rugged and 
unprepossessing scenery, here they descended into 
a well-watered little ecosystem of its own, featur- 
ing splendid sheep-hunting terrain and replete with 
signs of "numerous trails, old lodge-poles, 
bleached bones of game, and old camps of Chey- 
ennes and Arapahoes" (Jones 1875:54), even 
though Jones' own Indian guides claimed igno- 
rance of the little canyon. To find this "luxuri- 
ous" spot Jones had headed from the "big bend" 
of the Wind River, following its left bank to Dry 
Fork, which he pursued to its head, surmounting a 
low divide to reach the headwaters of Owl Creek 
near the Washakie Needles, a stream which he then 
traced into the hidden canyon environment. 

Jones also discovered that Camp Brown was 
the starting point for yet another, fourth Indian trail 
which cut northwards over the Owl Creek Moun- 
tains — the range which curves down the northeast- 
ern sector of today's Wind River Reservation. 
Leading hunters to the buffalo herds of the Big- 
horn basin, this route could also direct them to the 


American Indians .mil Yellowstone National Park 

north-northwest, where they entered the Shoshone 
River country with its distinctive landmark, the 
Buffalo Heart Mountain. From there a splinter trail 
veered up the North Fork of the Shoshone River, 
lifting Indian travelers over the divide and lead- 
ing them to the path that drew them into Yellow- 
stone National Park via its east entrance and the 
great lake. 

In addition, Jones noted other early Indian 
trailways that sprang from these origin points, such 
as (a) the route possibly ridden by Shoshone raid- 
ers into Sioux country, that headed directly east- 
ward from the Wind River's big bend and hugged 
the northern flank of the Sweetwater Valley be- 
fore following the Powder River towards the plains 
east of the Bighorns; or else (b) the native road 
which dropped south from the Wind River valley 
across the mountains above Union Peak and then 
led to the headwaters of the Green River; or, fi- 
nally, (c) still another Indian trail that led from 
Camp Brown to the head of the Wind River, then 
lifted up and over Togwotee Pass before taking 
the northerly drainage of the Snake River and fi- 
nally reaching Pacific Creek whereupon Indian 
wayfarers could take advantage of the route men- 
tioned above which connected the Tetons to the 
eastern shores of Yellowstone Lake. 

The curiosity of the William Jones expedi- 

tion of 1873 towards evidence of Indian travel 
routes in the Yellowstone National Park environs 
stood in contrast to the Hayden party's relative 
disinterest in native customs the previous year. And 
Jones also remained alert to any signs of what In- 
dians made with their hands or expressed with their 
words. While he may have been also open to learn- 
ing about their belief system, the Shoshone them- 
selves appear to have been ambivalent about al- 
lowing whites to view their rituals. When Chief 
Washakie was at his hunting camp in 1873, mem- 
bers of the Jones expedition were first invited to a 
forthcoming "buffalo dance," which involved ab- 
staining from water on the part of both men and 
women. Suddenly, however, the Shoshone seem 
to have changed their opinion about the foreign 
presence, and made up an excuse to renege. Yet 
when some Shoshone returned from the Crow res- 
ervation with a captured Sioux scalp the Crow had 
given them, they not only staged an impromptu 
scalp dance inside the new park, on the southern 
arm of Yellowstone Lake, but they welcomed the 
Jones crew to join in their celebration around the 
"disgraced" scalp (Jones 1875:276). 

With the aid of a native informant identified 
only by the name of Pinatsi — whom we might 
safely assume was a Shoshone — Jones seemed to 
appreciate the distant native past, as evidenced by 

Figure 5.2. Sign for Teton 
overlook, named after 
Sheep Eater guide and 
medicine man, Togwotee 
(author photo). 

Chapter 5. Sojourners from the South: Shoshone 201 

his surface collections of lithic artifacts. But he 
also interviewed living Shoshones about their lan- 
guage and compiled a working vocabulary. Also 
uncommon among Yellowstone explorers was the 
credit Jones gave to abiding ties between Indians 
and landscape. When Indians led him to "a per- 
fectly practicable passage to the Yellowstone Val- 
ley, via Wind River Valley and the head of Wind 
River," Jones shortly dubbed it Togwotee Pass, 
explaining that he preferred "to attach easy Indian 
names, wherever possible, to the prominent fea- 
tures of the country" (1875:55). 

Domain of the Eastern 
Shoshone: Era of Ethnogenesis 

It should not be surprising that these 
Shoshoneans, or "Snakes" as they were commonly 
known, found along the southern fringes of the 
greater Yellowstone region were well acquainted 
with the ins and outs of their topography. When 
ethnohistorian Omer C. Stewart began in 1952 to 
reconstruct for the Shoshone Land Claims Case 
the boundaries of aboriginal Shoshone territory, 
he painstakingly plotted onto a series of maps the 
known locations for the five major groups of Shos- 
hone from over four dozen sources (Stewart 1966). 
In so far as these northeastern Shoshoneans were 
concerned, with the exception of James Doty's 
1863 map all his major sources concurred that in 
aboriginal times these peoples claimed a portion 
of present-day Yellowstone National Park, as had 
been decreed in the Ft. Laramie Treaty of 185 1 (cit- 
ing Royce 1899; Powell 1891; Kroeber 1925; Stew- 
ard 1937; Stewart 1966). While most of his sources 
also agreed that at least the lower southwestern 
third of the park had clearly been Shoshone terri- 
tory, both Kroeber (1925) and Steward (1937) 
pushed that boundary even farther north, placing 
more than two-thirds of the present-day park within 
the aboriginal limits of Shoshone land. 

Among the Flathead, we may recall from 
Chapter 2, it was generally understood, according 
to the well-informed pioneer ethnographer James 
Teit, that "Shoshonean tribes occupied the Upper 
Yellowstone country, including Yellowstone Park " 
(Teil 1930:304, emphasis ours). As Teit continued 

with the Flathead view of Shoshone territoriality: 
"Farther north Shoshonean bands occupied the 
country around Livingston, Lewiston and Denton. 
How far east and down the Yellowstone they ex- 
tended is not known; but they are thought to have 
at one time held the country around Billings, and 
most, if not all, of the country where the Crow 
Indians now have a reservation." 

Summarizing the Shoshonean perspective, 
Brigham D. Madsen has described the broader 
Shoshone and Bannock historical domain (during 
the 19th century) as follows: 

In the beginning they claimed and roamed 
over a territory extending from the Wind 
River Mountains, the Yellowstone Park 
country, and the buffalo plains of Montana 
on the west to the Weiser-Boise-Bruneau 
valleys of the west, and from Great Salt 
Lake and Bear Lake on the south to the 
Salmon River of the north. The twin hearts 
of this immense area were Camas Prairie 
and the Portneuf-Snake River bottoms, the 
first a summer home and the latter a shel- 
tered haven against winter storms [Madsen 
1980:223, emphasis ours]. 

But as suggested by our parenthetical quali- 
fier, "during the 19th century," to more accurately 
reflect historical and socio-political realities 
Madsen's territorial assignment for the Shoshones 
should first be placed in a number of contexts. For 
one thing, this vast domain was not exactly 
"owned" in the Euro- American sense of land ten- 
ure. Only the natural resources of this habitat could 
be claimed by Indian families who, at any given 
time, found themselves in an auspicious situation 
for harvesting them. And in the egalitarian ethic 
of these hunters and gatherers, it was only practi- 
cal to share, as Sally Jean Laidlaw describes for 
the Fort Hall Shoshones: 

When there were good crops in any local- 
ity, they ripened so fast and fell to the 
ground so quickly that the people who or- 
dinarily lived in the area could not possi- 
bly gather them all. When a good harvest 
was promised they therefore spread the 
news abroad, so that people whose crops 
had failed could come to share their bounty 
with them [Laidlaw 1960:1-4]. 

A second reason that Madsen's broad delin- 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

eation of the early 19th century Shoshonean home- 
land cries out for more precise contextualization 
is that despite his phrase that this land area was 
what the Shoshone claimed "In the beginning," 
any representation of the tribe's territory must be 
positioned within a historical frame. For somewhat 
earlier than this purported "In the beginning," the 
Shoshonean brotherhood were actually to be found 
somewhat south of this area. In his attempt to sum- 
marize the protohistoric migrations of the early 
Shoshone, anthropologist Carling Malouf sees 
them concentrated in the "great reservoir" of the 
southern Great Basin, by which he means the large 
area we now know as southern Nevada and ad- 
joining portions of Utah, California and Arizona 
(Malouf 1967; also Johnson 1975:16-18). 

And instead of imagining these Shoshones 
moving en masse northward in some wholesale 
migration, Malouf has them percolating in small 
groups both eastward into Wyoming and north- 
ward up the Snake River system where he envis- 
ages pockets of Shoshonean settlers putting down 
roots, with one of the Wyoming offshoots even 
venturing still farther to become the Comanche. 
In the days before the horse, still others headed 
"up the North Fork of the Snake River, and through 
Targhee Pass and Raynolds Pass into the Madison 
and Jefferson river systems. . .When horses did ar- 
rive, Shoshoni power to wage war increased, and 
soon they had reached as far north as Canada" 
(Malouf 1967:130). By this point, according to 
Kroeber, the "pretty pure" foundation of Great 
Basin culture began to assume "an overlay of 
Plains culture" (Kroeber 1939:80, 82). After this 
the inventory of Plains-style markers such as "war 
bonnets, war honours, dancing societies and the 
Sun Dance now became parts of the Eastern Shos- 
hone culture" (Hultkrantz 1968a:72). 

Before long, however, Shoshonean expan- 
sionism seems to have been checked on both the 
north and east. Although evidence is strong con- 
cerning their extensive forays into Canada, by 1800 
they became clearly outnumbered and out-armed 
by newly mounted Blackfeet who began to press 
on them and force a southern retreat. That is around 
when the land base described by Madsen above 
seems to have been established. At about the same 
time scholars also point to the Crow putting a firm 
halt to any further Shoshonean spread into their 

territory on the east. Interestingly enough, after this 
adjustment of their mutual boundary, the Crow and 
Shoshone began forming a fairly durable, long- 
term inter-tribal friendship. This yielded a joint 
Shoshone-Crow trading expedition to the Mandan 
in 1805 (Hultkrantz 1968a:57), the transfer from 
the Crow of the idea of reconstituting the Wind 
River men's warrior societies [now known as 
"dance groups"] in 1878 (Shimkin 1942:457), and 
other exchanges in the religious sphere right down 
to the present day. 

Given their close proximity, it is not surpris- 
ing that a review of historical relations between 
Shoshones and Crows discloses this picture of al- 
ternating antagonistic territorial competition and 
amiable cultural exchange. It was already thanks 
to the Shoshones that the Crows had obtained their 
horses in the early 18th century, and it would be 
from the Wind River Shoshone that over 200 years 
later in 1938 they would receive a revived form of 
Sun Dance that still binds the two tribes on a sum- 
mer ceremonial circuit (Voget 1984). At the same 
time, as neighbors who shared strong military 
codes in the midst of the volatile arena of 19th- 
century Plains Indians jockeying for economic, 
political and territorial advantage, their warriors 
periodically drew the line against one another. 
According to Larry G. Murray, an Eastern Shos- 
hone member of the Economic Development Com- 
mittee and a tribal historian: 

By the 1850s the Crows began hunting 
regularly in central Wyoming, and the East- 
ern Shoshones, under the leadership of 
Chief Washakie, challenged their right to 
hunt and camp there. In March 1866 the 
Crows were camped near the present site 
of Kinnear, Wyoming, on the north side of 
the Big Wind River, when the Eastern 
Shoshones drove them out of the valley, 
and thus ended the Crow intrusion into 
Shoshone country [Curriculum Develop- 
ment Workshop 1996:587]. 

But for any realistic portrayal of this "Shos- 
hone country" we must also factor in a critical third 
context. We need a more dynamic, situational ap- 
preciation of how rapidly Shoshone forms of socio- 
political organization could adapt to changing cir- 
cumstances. For it is safe to say that before the 
horse and the treaty-making era there was no 

Chapter 5. Sojourners from the South: Shoshone 203 

widely shared notion of over-arching Shoshonean 
nationality or collective territory, as the Madsen 
quote above misleadingly suggests. Rather, in ab- 
original times any Shoshone's political and eco- 
nomic allegiance would be to his immediate sub- 
sistence-based "kin and clique" group or band. 
which would probably be named for the colloquial 
designation of its primary food — as described in 
Chapter 4. 

With the spread of horses and then, equally 
importantly, the bureaucratic reorganizations of 
Indian groups during and after the treaty era, an 
altered sense of collective identity took over. In- 
stead of public association with primary food 
groups, now came a notion of group solidarity or- 
ganized around specific named leaders, or "chiefs." 
In former, more "traditional" years these notables 
might have only been what political anthropolo- 
gists know as "big men:" forceful personalities 
who retained control of distributing food and re- 
sources so long as they enjoyed continued success 
in the hunt. But under the white-initiated demands 
that these select individuals negotiate with U.S. 
emissaries, ratify treaties and make choices about 
providing military assistance for the Indian wars, 
they suddenly found themselves elevated to the 
status of political figureheads. 

Hence, around the 1860s we begin to hear of 
Shoshonean groups who were located on the bor- 
ders of Yellowstone National Park or were impli- 
cated in the region's history becoming publicly 
identified by the personality of such leading chiefs, 
with their group's reputation often stamped by the 
degree to which that particular leader was friendly 
or hostile to whites. For instance, there were the 
accommodating followers of Taghee (or Tyhee) 
of the Bannocks, whom Chief Washakie permit- 
ted to live with his Eastern Shoshone people at 
Wind River but who preferred to relocate to Fort 
Hall in Idaho instead. Initially aggressive towards 
white emigrants, Taghee agreed to land cessation 
treaties, became a successful farmer, and sat out 
the 1878 Bannock War. There were also the Indi- 
ans attached to Pocatello, who had achieved chief- 
tainship of his Western Shoshones at about the 
same time as Washakie, but whose altitude towards 
white intruders was far more militant until his 
imprisonment in 1859. And there were friendly 
bands that gravitated towards Tendoy of the Lemhi 

Shoshone (whose father was a Bannock and 
mother a Sheep Eater), who has been described as 
"probably one of the last Bannock-Shoshone lead- 
ers to cross Yellowstone National Park on the Great 
Bannock Trail" (Whittlesey 1988:153). Tendoy 
shared Washakie's conciliatory strategy towards 
whites, despite enticements in the 1860s to join Ute 
upstarts or northwestern hostiles under the com- 
mand of Pocatello and Bear Hunter. 

By aligning themselves behind such leaders, 
tribespeople declared both their ethnic and politi- 
cal allegiances. But none on this roster of celeb- 
rity chiefs enjoyed so long a reign nor achieved 
the widespread prestige of the man named "Gourd 
Rattle," or Washakie. If ever the historical trajec- 
tory of an American Indian tribe's relations with 
the United States were dominated by a single 
larger-than-life individual, it would be hard to find 
a better example than this principal chief of the 
Eastern Shoshone. 

Wind River Shoshone History: 
The Washakie Years 

From his birth in 1804 to a Flathead father 
and part-Lemhi Shoshone (and possibly part-Sheep 
Eater as well — Crowder 1969:41) mother, to his 
old age and death at the very start of the 20th cen- 
tury, Washakie's life would symbolically and lit- 
erally be linked with the history of the greater Yel- 
lowstone environment. He was born only a year 
before his fellow tribesperson, the famous Shos- 
hone woman named Sacajawea or "Birdwoman," 
became attached to the exploratory expedition led 
by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Their 
triumphal journey would just bypass the Yellow- 
stone National Park area as it linked the fledgling 
republic from sea to sea. And nearly four score 
years later Washakie would host the President of 
the United States. Chester Arthur, during his fish- 
ing and sight-seeing trip through Yellowstone 
National Park in 1883. 

For many of the decades in between those 
benchmark dates Washakie served as his people's 
unquestioned leader. In the major transformation 
of the Shoshone from a free-foraging society of 
hunters and gatherers to subjects sequestered on a 
government reservation. Washakie would become 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

■^3fe» «***> i3w 

^ I ■ . ■ ■ 

Figure 5.3. Eastern Shoshone Indians at Fort Washakie with Chief Washakie mounted at far right, August 1883 
(Courtesy ofHaynes Foundation Collection, Montana Historical Society, catalog #H-1011, photographer F. Jay 

one of the most important "transitional" chiefs in 
the Great Plains. During his rough-and-ready war- 
rior days, between 1820 and 1840, the youthful 
Washakie reveled in non-stop guerilla warfare with 
Blackfeet (see Fowler 1964). The battlefield hon- 
ors he earned during this period, plus his physical 
charisma and oratorical gifts, elevated Washakie 
to the position of principal chief in the 1840s upon 
the death of the brother-chiefs, Padashawaunda and 

The renown gained by Washakie for his loy- 
alty towards Euro-Americans grew out of the 
largely amicable trading "rendezvous" of the early 
fur trade era, where isolated Rocky Mountain fur- 
trappers, whose swaggering lifestyle had borrowed 
heavily from Indians, exchanged horses, furs, 
muskets, knives, beads and kettles with Shoshone 
along the Green River. Later in life, Washakie en- 
joyed recalling when he herded the trappers' 
horses, learned to become a marksman with their 
firearms, and developed a taste for their bread and 
coffee (see Wright 1980). But just as over-trapping 

of fur-bearing mammals and decline in the beaver 
hat market caused this frequently romanticized 
"mountain man" era to wane, other social, eco- 
nomic and political forces began to influence the 
Shoshonean world. 

First, the loosely organized Shoshones fell 
under new threat of tribal expansionism from other 
quarters, as their arch-enemies, the Sioux and 
Cheyenne, acquired the white man's weapons and 
horses and began aggressively pushing into Crow 
and Shoshone territories. Second, the discoveries 
of gold in California as well as closer to home — 
just north of South Pass — intensified the traffic 
across the rutted wagon roads that ran south of 
their country. As an estimated 155,000 people and 
100,000 head of stock crossed South Pass between 
1849 and 1851, this not only increased the danger 
of angry brushes between Shoshones and settlers, 
more importantly it motivated the government to 
construct military posts along the Oregon and other 
trails to protect travelers from the Sioux and Chey- 
enne raiders, as well as to consider a national policy 

Chapter 5. Sojourners from the South: Shoshone 205 

of consolidating Indians on reservations. Third, the 
permanent Mormon settlements that arose along 
the southern rim of Washakie's hunting grounds 
eventually forced Washakie to choose between his 
allegiance to these solicitous new neighbors and 
to the United States that soon found itself at odds 
with the Mormon threat to its sovereignty. 

Over the decades of trying to keep his more 
impetuous tribesmen in check, Washakie also 
shepherded his Eastern Shoshone followers 
through the series of road-widenings, railroad track 
openings, valuable mineral discoveries, peace trea- 
ties and land cessation agreements that, one by one, 
gradually curtailed Shoshone freedom-of-move- 
ment and steadily reduced their land holdings. It 
was during the tribe's first treaty, the grandiose 
Fort Laramie Council of September, 1851, that 
Washakie's importance as paramount chief dra- 
matically came to light. Outsiders witnessed the 
chief's cool demeanor in the face of one Sioux's 
direct challenge to hand-to-hand combat as a high- 
light of the Shoshone appearance there (Hebard 
1995:698-70). Although the territorial boundaries 
assigned by U.S. officials in 1851 were rather loose, 
it may have been the Shoshone who lost most dur- 
ing this convocation, for the Crows were rewarded 
for friendship with the whites by receiving the 
Bighorn basin clear down to the Shoshones' Wind 
River Mountains. 

The following year the Mormons served as 
intermediaries for Washakie's peace treaty with the 
Utes. But it was not until 1863 that Washakie was 
invited to Fort Bridger for the next really impor- 
tant treaty-signing with the U.S. government; 
among the five peace treaties negotiated with 
Shoshonean peoples that year was one signed with 
Washakie at Fort Bridger on July 2nd. In exchange 
for the right to clear roads, establish military forts 
and to open telegraph lines, stage routes and rail- 
heads across Shoshone lands, the government 
promised $20,000 worth of goods (which the U.S. 
Congress quickly cut in half") for twenty years. De- 
spite delays in receiving the promised goods, un- 
der Washakie's influence his people prospered and 
largely adhered to the peace treaty. The next U.S. 
treaty with Washakie and other Shoshone and 
Bannock leaders, negotiated five years later also 
at Fort Bridger, gave the chief the secure reserva- 
tion for which he had been petitioning. Later this 

agreement would also allow the U.S. Congress to 
allocate funds for the building of a road in 1898 
between Fort Washakie and the Buffalo Fork of 
the Snake River. Its purpose was to hasten the ac- 
cess of troops from Fort Washakie into the Jack- 
son Hole area in the event of possible clashes be- 
tween Shoshone hunters and white outlaws and 
game wardens. 

Through the terms of the Fort Bridger Treaty 
of 1868 Washakie also allowed his Eastern Shos- 
hone to be drawn into the government's new as- 
similation policy. Now heads of Shoshone fami- 
lies were encouraged to choose 320 acres for their 
farms and receive seeds and agricultural imple- 
ments; a building and teacher were to be provided 
for every thirty children and every Indian was to 
receive cotton and flannel goods. Yet Washakie 
warned the Treaty Commissioners at Fort Bridger 
that he would not accept the new reservation until 
the government proved it could protect his people 
from the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho. His in- 
sistence forced the government to establish Camp 
Augur (named for its builder, General Christopher 
C. Auger) on June 28, 1869, at the present site of 
Lander, Wyoming, whose name was changed to 
Camp Brown (for Captain Federick Brown, who 
was killed in the Fetterman Massacre) on March 
28, 1870. So it seems appropriate that the old chief 
was honored on December 30, 1878, after the gar- 
rison had been relocated to the center of the reser- 
vation, with its new and present name. Fort 

Two other major land-cessation negotiations 
were thrust upon Washakie. With the discovery of 
gold at South Pass he was pressured to sanction 
the sale of all Shoshone lands south of the Popo 
Agie in December 1874. It was also fairly clear 
that Washakie was personally profiting from such 
agreements; this 1874 sale saw the United States 
promise annually $5,000 worth of cattle for five 
years, with an additional $500 a year earmarked 
for Washakie himself. In 1896. with much greater 
reluctance, the 94-year-old chief agreed to share 
negotiating rights with Sharp Nose of the Arapaho 
as they sold the ten square acres housing the pre- 
cious Hot Springs of the Thermopolis area to the 
government for $50,000. That was the last time 
Washakie would affix his "X mark" to an official 
document. By then the only faint reminders that 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

tied Shoshone Indians to the Yellowstone environ- 
ment would be a handful of park place-names de- 
rived from their language, such as Dunanda Falls, 
Gwinna Falls, Ponuntpa Springs, Wahb Springs 
and Wahhi Falls. 

Safeguarding his followers' political neutral- 
ity through these years was not always easy for 
Washakie. Younger upstart warriors decamped to 
join less conciliatory Shoshone and Bannock lead- 
ers, like Bear Hunter or Pashego, as they swooped 
down upon pioneers and ranchers along the Utah- 
Idaho border. Despite Washakie's stance of alli- 
ance with whites, which extended to lending war- 
riors to serve as U.S. scouts, he was constantly 
being asked to concede more land and erode his 
authority. In 1878, when he was originally forced 
to accept a contingent of almost a thousand, near- 
destitute Arapahoes on the Shoshone reservation, 
he reminded the Governor of Wyoming Territory 
what it felt like to lose political freedom and larger 
homeland: "The white man, who possesses this 
whole vast country from sea to sea, who roams 
over it at pleasure, and lives where he likes, can- 
not know the cramp we feel in this little spot" 
(Hebard 1995:212). 

One of Washakie's last government-sanc- 
tioned escapes from that cramped little spot had 
actually occurred four years earlier, when the Com- 
missioner of Indian Affairs allowed him to lead a 
buffalo hunt in the fall of 1874. Accompanying the 
old-style expedition would be a "roaming school" 
for Indian children, with instructor (and later In- 
dian agent) James I. Patten packing along a cir- 
cus-size tent to serve as his mobile classroom, "a 
comfortable place for 25 to 35 scholars." On Oc- 
tober 16 the large party of pack and hunting horses 
and outlying scouts departed from Fort Washakie 
to ford the Big Wind River just south of the present 
Diversion Dam. Waiting three days for their scout 
reports, they finally learned the Bighorn basin was 
teeming with game. Yet when they spied numer- 
ous signs of a large hostile group of Indians they 
struck out on the Red Canyon Trail across the Owl 
Creek Mountains. Snowbound for another four 
days, they eventually descended into the basin to 
camp at Red Springs. 

It was then that schoolteacher Patten "saw 
the Indians in another light." What follows is 
Patten's eye-witness cameo of Shoshones relish- 

ing a taste of the old days. This is the sort of com- 
munal hunt they must have conducted throughout 
the greater Yellowstone ecosystem for centuries: 

They were not the same people who a few 
days earlier had left the agency compla- 
cent and mild. Huge fires were burning 
throughout this camp. Harangues were 
made by old men, incantations made by 
medicine men, drums were beaten, and 
rattles shaken. Washakie himself seemed 
another being on this wild and weird camp- 
ing ground. His voice, loud and clear, rang 
out on the night air as he addressed his 
people. His face lighted up and caused 
great enthusiasm among the young and old 
and they joined in singing their old war and 
hunting songs [Patten 1926:298-299]. 

After Shoshone runners located some buf- 
falo about forty miles west of present-day Worland 
and just southeast of Meeteetse, the hunters read- 
ied their special buffalo horses and gave chase. In 
less than an hour they had killed 125 animals, and 
shortly crossed the Shoshone River a few miles 
west of present-day Emblem to continue on to the 
Bighorn River. On their return home about a month 
after they had left, they crept up on a small buf- 
falo herd about eighteen miles from the Wind River 
Agency. As Patten and his Indian friends watched 
from hiding, the animals blissfully rolled on their 
backs in a muddy buffalo wallow. According to 
Patten, "This was the last herd of bufalo seen near 
the [Wind River] agency for already the vast herds 
of buffalo were beginning to disappear" (Patten 

Given the fact that six years later there ex- 
isted an unwritten ban that strongly discouraged 
Eastern Shoshone, along with all other Indians, 
from entering Yellowstone National Park, the best 
evidence we have that some intimate knowledge 
of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem was being 
transmitted from generation to generation are the 
hints of Shoshone Indians functioning as hired 
hunting guides, or even as hunt predators, during 
visits by white sportsmen. In the winter of 1880— 
81, for instance, William Baillie-Grohom noticed 
that when he left Fort Washakie for the "Sierra 
Shoshone," hungry Indians often pursued and 
butchered those wounded deer which he found too 
troublesome to track down on his own (Baillie- 

Chapter 5. Sojourners from the South: Shoshone 207 

Grohman 1882:263-277). Packing in with his elk 
and bear hunting party, in 1887 the author Owen 
Wister was led first over the Continental Divide 
for some elk and bear hunting in Jackson Hole, 
and hence up into the southern reaches of the park 
all the way to Mammoth Springs by his guide, a 
"full-blood Shoshone" named Tighee, or Tigi. As 
Wister evoked his woodsmen skills in a journal: 

But it was necessary to follow Tigi like his 
shadow. I tried to make as little noise as he 
does. Whipping by jagged rotten boughs, 
letting his shoulder go an inch from them 
and stepping over twigs that lay thick in the 
timber. His moccasins slipped over them 
with never a crack [Wister Notebook, Tues- 
day, August 16, 1887, University of Wyo- 
ming, Special Collections, Accession #290]. 

And when the British hunter Edward Buxton 
wanted to locate game around the Jackson Hole 
and southern Yellowstone region he sought out 
local Indians because he had heard that they still 
hunted up there. But he had to be satisfied with 
second-best in the person of the white man named 
"Indian Dick" who had been raised by the Wind 
River Shoshone (Buxton 1892:75). Other informa- 

tion suggests that well into the 20th century, if 
times got tight the Eastern Shoshone could fall 
back upon their older hunting expertise and their 
first-hand topographical knowledge of the greater 
Yellowstone ecosystem. 

As late as autumn, 1929, for instance, when 
the Shoshones and Arapahoes were suffering slim 
government rations on their reservation, they con- 
ducted what almost sounds like a repeat perfor- 
mance of Washakie's 1874 hunt. A body of about 
twenty-five to thirty Indians slipped away from 
their Agency and trespassed upon the Washakie 
National Forest, pitching their canvas tents on 
Green Creek which lay just to the west of Trapper 
Creek. While on his regular patrol, a timber sale 
ranger named Carl G. Krueger spied the band and 
felt he was glimpsing "the way they had been pre- 
paring meat for hundreds of years." As Krueger re- 
called the scene of this Shoshone food-processing 

They came by team and wagon, and had a 
bunch of extra horses, so made quite a pro- 
cession. They built pole racks at their camp. 
and it looked as if a half an acre of land 
was covered with strips of meat hanging 

Figure 5.4. Dick Washakie (left) guiding Owen Wister Party into Buffalo Fork, just south of Yellowstone 
National Park. 1887 (Photo courtesy of American Heritage Center. University of Wyoming). 


Anient ;in Indians ;ind Yellowstone National Park 

in the sun to dry. This was fairly early in 
the fall; there were still lots of flies, and 
around their camp there was also a good 
strong odor. I expect this was the way they 
had been preparing meat for hundreds of 
years. Moose were protected at that time 
too, but I think some of them got on the 
drying racks; there seemed to be fewer of 
them around after the Indians left. I did not 
take any pictures of this; maybe I thought 
the Indians wouldn't appreciate it. There 
are both Shoshone and Arapahoes on the 
reservation, but I don't know which tribe 
these belonged to [Krueger n.d., p. 11]. 

Washakie's waning years as principal chief 
of the Wind River Shoshone witnessed increasing 
tribal impoverishment and collective uncertainty. 
Government rations were trimmed, the agricultural 
promise which saw Shoshones managing their own 
farms with some success by 1872 turned sour 
within a few years, and a measles epidemic killed 
many of their children (Vander 1986:5). As faith in 
their old modes of maintaining psychological bal- 
ance and physical health began to falter, many were 
attracted to the messages of Mormon and Episco- 
palian missionaries, as well as to new native cer- 
emonies like their version of the Ghost Dance, the 
Native American Church, and a form of Sun Dance 
which blended old beliefs, Christian symbols and 
placed a special emphasis on curative rituals (see 
Shimkin 1942:456-461 for Shoshone religious 

Today all three of these rituals still survive 
in various forms on the Wind River Reservation, 
with Sun Dancing and Peyotism actually flourish- 
ing (Liljeblad 1969:41). But the tribe's wider do- 
main has shrunken, with the surrounding federal 
lands largely off-limits to hunters and the Camas 
Prairie where their northern brethren once har- 
vested the onion-like roots — to be described in the 
next section — now under agribusiness cultivation, 
and the only stray camas to be found sprouting 
like weeds out of roadside ditches (Statham 
1976:65). Yet the Shoshone-Arapahoe land base, 
extending seventy miles from east to west and fifty- 
five miles from north to south just east of the con- 
tinental divide, remains a sanctuary where a hand- 
ful of elder Eastern Shoshone and Sheep Eater de- 
scendants still retain some knowledge of religious 

and social practices that link them to the greater 
Yellowstone ecosystem. Surrounding the river 
valley settlements occupied by these Indians is an 
encircling wall of snow-capped mountains. Within 
their embrace exists this cultural world apart, Shos- 
hone and Arapaho Indian country, in which, writes 
anthropologist Loretta Fowler, "There is a perva- 
sive stillness and, despite the clusters of extended 
family settlements, a sense of great space" (Fowler 

Camas Among 
Yellowstone's Indians 

Although many different natural plant re- 
sources were harvested by Shoshoneans along the 
southern reaches of the greater Yellowstone eco- 
system, such as the tiny leaves from thistles and 
heath for their tobacco mixtures (Nickerson 
1966:49-50), this section will focus exclusively on 
the widespread use of the Camas bulb in or around 
the park region. Reputed to be "the great northern 
Plateau staple" (Turney-High 1941:33) or the 
"queen root of this clime" (Father Pierre De Smet, 
in Chittenden and Richardson 1905:488), we have 
delayed until now from summarizing the cultural 
role of this principal major Plains-Plateau food 
source in their lives in much the same manner that 
we reserved Chapter 2 for synthesizing much of 
our data on big-game hunting. Our information on 
camas originates from archaeological, historical, 
ethnographic and folkloristic sources. 

1. Camas: Archaeology. It is around the 
southern skirt of the Yellowstone Plateau that the 
preponderance of our archaeological data about 
camas comes in the form of the pit roasting hearths 
in which it was cooked. Not far south of the park, 
for instance, at the Henn site in the southern Jack- 
son Hole region — one of the most recent and so- 
phisticated archaeological episodes in the region — 
University of Wyoming archaeologists in 1992 
discovered nine of these rock-filled hearths. 

According to the Henn investigators, "pit 
roasting is an extremely labor intensive, messy, 
space consuming activity that typically requires 
one to three days to complete. As a result such 
activities are often conducted in areas peripheral 
to the main habitation area" (Rapson et al. 

Chapter 5. Sojourners from the South: Shoshone 209 

1995:235-236). Since almost none of the hearths 
betrayed evidence of animal remains, archaeolo- 
gist David J. Rapson concluded that in all prob- 
ability they were evidence for the reliance of Indi- 
ans on plant resources like camas for at least 300 
years during the Late Prehistoric and Protohistoric 
periods. As Rapson points out, however, blue ca- 
mas was only one of many edible root and tuber 
resources eaten by Indians in the area, such as 
White Mules-Ears, Arrowleaf Balsamroot, Wyeth 
Biscuitroot, Wild Hyacinth, Sego Lily, Tobacco 
root, Arrowhead, Wild Onion, Cattail and Yampa 
(Rapson 1995:77). 

By the time of the Henn excavations, botani- 
cal archaeology in the Jackson Hole- Yellowstone 
National Park ecosystem had been underway for 
a dozen years, thanks to the work of Stuart A. 
Reeve. In 1980 Reeve first perceived how native 
food-foraging practices of this region reflected a 
blend of the three culture areas we have described 
in our introduction: Great Basin-Shoshone, Pla- 
teau-Salish and Plains-Blackfeet traditions. Of the 
many plant species used by early Indians here, he 
argued that the blue camas found in the lowland 
meadows was clearly most prominent, whose gath- 
ering "focused migratory patterns and structured 
band territories" throughout the region (Reeve 
1980:378). During his following doctoral research, 
Reeve came to realize that while "the number of 
potential plant resources are vast... the task of at- 
tributing prehistoric significance to one or more 
plants can be risky" (Personal communication, 
December 4, 1993). Despite other scientific opin- 
ions to the contrary (see Melissa Conner reports 
from Jackson Lake), Reeve felt confident enough 
about pinpointing camas as a key plant for prehis- 
toric peoples "occupying the Snake River head- 
waters of northwestern Wyoming" to devote his 
Ph.D. dissertation to the topic (Reeve 1986:iii). In 
this work Reeve also speculated on the 
complementarity of gender division of labor for 
native food-gathering in the region. Looking most 
intensively at the Lawrence site at the northern end 
of Jackson Lake, Reeve hypothesized that: 

...the eastern biogeographic boundary of 
the liliaceous root crop blue camas 
(Camassia quamash) provided an ecologi- 
cal context for surplus root harvest and for 
social aggregating. Female root gathering 

activities may have provided economic and 
ideological bases for ceremonialism, trade 
and political alliance central to the reemer- 
gence of a high country adaptive system 
since perhaps 10,000 B.P. in the mountains 
of north-western Wyoming.... Lithic as- 
semblages from meadow and non-meadow 
sites are compared to demonstrate both the 
sequence of seasonal subsistence and 
settlement patterns, and to differentiate 
work activities at female-oriented meadow 
sites and presumed male fishing sites 
[Reeve 1986:iii]. 

When Reeve's next important assignment 
moved into the heart of Yellowstone National Park, 
he kept his eye out for evidence of camas use. The 
only promising meadows for gathering were in the 
southwestern corner of the park, but he did turn 
up earthovens at a Fishing Bridge site (48YE304). 
The cracked rock features used to cook large quan- 
tities of roots, and the grinding stones for reduc- 
ing them to flours or cakes which mobile Indians 
could carry as they moved, made him wonder again 
whether, since plant gathering was largely 
woman's work, the residential camps "may have 
allowed direct access to female exploitative envi- 
ronments" (Reeve 1989:32). 

On the southern fringes of the greater Jack- 
son Hole- Yellowstone ecosystem the hundreds of 
large cobble-filled fire pits found in Wyoming's 
upper Green River Basin provide a better sense of 
the extent of Shoshonean dependance upon wild 
plants (Francis 1995:2). To these wet meadow en- 
vironments the mountain dwellers would have 
probably descended on foraging expeditions in 
spring and fall. Analysis of one of their roasting 
hearths in this floodplain environment was con- 
ducted in 1991 by Wyoming state archaeologists as 
part of a Wyoming Department of Transportation 
survey. It yielded a detailed glimpse of the nutri- 
tional value to Indians of the Yellowstone Plateau 
of not only camas but other edible roots and tu- 
bers such as wild onion, biscuitroot and yampa 
(Francis 1995). 

Near Duck Creek, a tributary of the New 
Fork, the archaeologist Julie Francis worked on a 
cooking pit. known as "feature 5," a little over a 
hundred miles south of the park, which would have 
held about nine bushels of roots. When Francis 
examined ethnographic writings on the Flathead 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

and other Plateau groups, she discovered that it 
was estimated that a single root-digger could col- 
lect about one bushel of camas roots a day (Malouf 
1979:26; Ray 1932:98), but that an average of only 
30 kg, or 0.7 bushels of biscuitroot, might be col- 
lected each day. This meant that one person would 
take about nine days to fill the cooking pit with 
camas, and thirteen days to fill it with biscuitroot 
(Hunn 1981:129). 

Next Francis wanted to learn how beneficial 
this cooking oven might have been to its Indian 
users. Already she knew that Hunn had estimated 
that 0. 1 kilograms of fresh camas roots yielded 113 
kilocalories (1981: 1 3), and therefore that 200 kilo- 
grams of camas cooked in the pit she had exca- 
vated would yield about 226,000 kilocalories. As 
she continued: 

Assuming an average [human] requirement 
of 200/kcal/day, camas cooked in feature 
5 would have supplied the total caloric 
needs of one person for 1 1 days or a fam- 
ily of four for nearly 30 days. One must 
also consider that roots processed in fea- 
ture 5 would have constituted only a por- 
tion of the total diet. For a family of four, 
camas cooked in feature 5 would supply 
56,500 kcal/person. Spread out over one 
year, this would amount to 8% of the daily 
caloric requirement [Francis 1995:10]. 

From the lack of animal and other plant re- 
mains Francis concluded that this particular hearth 
had been exclusively devoted to roasting root prod- 
ucts. Not necessarily associated with a residential 
camp of any duration, she believed that this hearth 
and others like it were more likely reflective of 
Indians who organized themselves to undertake 
food-gathering expeditions with specific products 
in mind that they would process on site and then 
transport to their homes at some other locations. 

2. Camas: History. For the region west and 
northwest of Yellowstone National Park, much of 
our information about this crucial food source is 
historical in nature. It was Lewis and Clark who 
first named the camas plant on September 20, 1805, 
during their trek through the country of the Nez 
Perce Indians. Finding it growing at "Quawmash 
Flats" in northern Idaho, where they learned that 
it was a vital part of the native food supply, they 
dubbed it accordingly (Thwaites 1904-1906, V: 1 19). 

Subsequent visitors to Shoshone and Ban- 
nock country did not ignore these Indians' special 
dependance upon camas. While visiting Fort Hall 
in 1839, T.J. Farnham learned that natives to the 
west of Fort Hall "are said to subsist principally 
on roots" and then, on the Bear River divide, got a 
chance to see for himself how "This valley is the 
grain-filled and root-garden of the Shoshonie In- 
dians; for there grow in it a number of kinds of 
edible roots, which they dig in August, and dry for 
winter use" (in Thwaites 1906:293). And travel- 
ling across the same landscape only a few years 
later, Theodore Talbot met Shoshones bearing 
"Kooyah or Black root" to trade. Initially Talbot 
looked with some distaste at the "black, sticky, 
suspicious looking compound, of a very disagree- 
able odor" until he was told that "when you have 
overcome the prejudices which its appearance and 
smell create. . .it is a very palatable and soon a fa- 
vorite mess" (Carey, ed. 1931:45). 

During the historical period, the horse-riding 
Shoshone and Bannock Indians were distinguished 
from other Plains peoples by their seasonal alter- 
nation between hunting for large mammals and 
foraging for plant staples. Indeed, their favored 
areas for harvesting tubers, roots and seeds appear 
to have been just as central to their sense of cul- 
tural identity as were their big game-hunting 
grounds. Only nine months before the establish- 
ment of Yellowstone National Park, in June of 1871, 
families from the Idaho Bannock tribe undertook 
their customary spring expedition to their favored 
camas meadows to the west of Fort Hall. They were 
bent on foraging for camas roots, which they knew 
as pasigo (Statham 1976:60), and which they ha- 
bitually unearthed using antler digging sticks and 
leather carrying sacks and then dried prior to head- 
ing out on their spring buffalo hunts. 

Already these Bannock were aware that the 
Oregon Trail was cutting across the fertile bottom- 
lands of the Bear, Snake and Portneuf rivers where 
they were accustomed to finding camas. But what 
the Indians discovered on the Camas Prairie that 
spring brought home the shocking ramifications 
of white penetration like never before. Great 
swatches of the moist rich loam where they ex- 
pected to find two-foot high stalks, supporting 
delicate blue flowers and springing out of sweet- 
tasting, highly nutritious bulbs, had been torn up 

Chapter 5. Sojourners from the South: Shoshone 211 

and the plant remains strewn about by packs of 
the white man's hogs. 

Since their earliest treaty discussions the 
Bannocks and Shoshones had always insisted that 
this particular food-gathering region be set aside 
for their exclusive use. And during treaty negotia- 
tions with the Fort Hall Bannock and Shoshone 
in 1868, the Government had vowed to allow the 

. . .retention of "reasonable portions" of the 
Portneuf River valley and the Big Camas 
Prairie, the best root-digging grounds in 
southern Idaho. Their chiefs had been firm 
on this point; whatever else they would 
have to give up, the habitats of their most 
important food plants they would not give 
up. . .The Fort Hall band leaders took great 
pains to convince the agent that Camas 
Prairie was essential to the economy which 
he wanted them to maintain [Liljeblad 

The heavy concentration of camas in the 
Bannock and Northern Shoshone region seems to 
have led to the importance of the Camas Prairie as 
a trading center, in addition to the fact that it was 
also an optimal staging place from which to launch 
their large-scale buffalo hunts (Steward 1938:328; 
Murphy and Murphy 1960:320). As Statham has 
written, "Although surpluses sufficient to foster 
the emergence of a well-developed trade were 
unusual for the native people of the Great Basin 
(Steward 1938:321), the localized abundance of 
camas in the northern Great Basin made the po- 
tential of trade a reality" (Statham 1976:78). Be- 
cause the well-watered Big Camas Prairie, that 
extends north of today's Mount Bennett Hills in 
south-central Idaho, was such a first-rate foraging 
ground, it also became a crossroads where 
Bannocks, Shoshones, Nez Perce, Flathead and 
Pend d'Oreilles might exchange deer hides, horses, 
buffalo robes, pine nuts, seeds, otter furs and 
tanned buckskins, along with a host of root re- 
sources, with camas foremost among them (cita- 
tions summarized in Statham 1976:78-79). 

But in 1871, after the Bannocks complained 
of the hog invasion into their prime camas fields, 
they were informed that a clerical error in the writ- 
ten transcription of their Fort Bridger Treaty had 
actually altered the wording of "Camas Prairie" to 

"Kansas Prairie," and thus the region had not been 
protected. We have no record what the Indians 
thought of this feeble explanation. However, even 
their own government agent, M.P. Berry, later 
confessed that "White men were merely using 
the mistake as a subterfuge for claiming the 
Camas Prairie as open for settlement and use 
by the whites" (Report of the Commissioner of 
Indian Affairs, 1871, pp. 540-43; Berry to 
Walker, Fort Hall Agency, January 1, 1872. in 
Fort Hall Agency Letter Book, quoted in 
Madsen 1958:182-183). 

Not long afterwards dignitaries such as Idaho 
governor W. J. McConnell and U.S. Army Gen- 
eral and Indian fighter George Crook fully admit- 
ted that the Bannocks considered their traditional 
ties to this Portneuf/Camas Prairie region so vital 
to their food supply that it was perfectly under- 
standable why, seven years later, they would take 
up arms to defend this stretch of ground — which 
could be likened to their bread basket (Madsen 
1958:228-229). Indeed, a former Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park official also compared the importance 
of the plant — known scientifically as camassia 
quamash — for tribes in and around Yellowstone 
National Park to that of "bread" for the non-In- 
dian (Beal 1942:46). While other causes can be 
cited for instigating the Bannock and northern 
Shoshone hostilities of 1878. today's Fort Hall In- 
dians often point to this wanton destruction of their 
fundamental food source as the major catalyst. 

Our emphasis in this section on historical 
information should not give the misleading im- 
pression that we know nothing about Northern 
Shoshone or Bannock gathering and preparation 
practices for camas. Although there has not been 
any systematic ethnographic review of the root and 
bulb resources exploited by the Shoshone-Bannock 
peoples (Statham 1976:60), the ethnographic lit- 
erature contains such frequent references to its use 
within the Great Basin and Plateau that by his- 
toric times it must have been a staple of the 
Shoshonean diet for centuries, if not millennia 
(Anastasio 1955:18; Liljeblad 1957:15. 26. 65: 
Curtis 1907-1930, VILxi; Steward 1938:10. 167; 
1943:364; Kroeber 1953:49: Murphy and Murphy 

Almost certainly, when spring in the greater 
Yellowstone ecosystem was in its fullness, any 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Bannocks or Shoshones moving into the south- 
western corner of the Yellowstone Plateau would 
ascend the broad grand steps of the Bechler Mead- 
ows with their eyes alert for its telltale blue flow- 
ers. Most northern Plains and western Plateau na- 
tive peoples responded with gratitude when those 
flowers announced that this abundant food staple, 
the camas root, was ripe for the digging. But flats 
of flowering camas and yampa could also be found 
intermittently throughout the plateau. In the very 
core of the present-day park, for instance, one har- 
vesting place lay alongside Fishing Bridge. Wher- 
ever the Shoshones moved in the months of June 
and July, a large part of their attention was paid to 
favored spots for digging out these hyacinth- 
shaped, bulbous roots, which were generally bur- 
ied no more than about four inches into the ground. 
They unearthed them with the aid of fire-hardened 
wood or antler digging sticks— later to be replaced 
by metal hay rake tines with metal, horn or wood 
pushing handles. 

3. Camas: Ethnography and Folklore. For 
more fine-grained ethnographic detail on how ca- 
mas was gathered, prepared and celebrated, how- 
ever, it seems more fruitful to return to literature 
on tribes to the north of Yellowstone National Park. 
From such material we get a sense that dependance 
upon camas and other ground tubers was not uni- 
form among the tribes surrounding Yellowstone 
National Park. While the Blackfeet did not rely on 
camas to the extent of the so-called "West-Side 
tribes" like the Kootenai, Salish and others, they 
too occasionally roasted them in stone-lined pits 
(for the Blackfeet method, see Schultz and 
Donaldson 1930:42-43). Yet some anxiety seems 
to have attended its processing which, although 
camas was abundant in their region, may have in- 
hibited its use by the Blackfeet, as explained by 
Schultz and Donaldson: 

It was a belief of the Blackfeet that, if a pit 
of camas proved to be improperly roasted, 
overcooked or undercooked, death would 
soon come to the roasters or to their rela- 
tives. For that reason they did not gather 
and roast it. But when at peace with the 
West-Side tribes, as sometimes happened, 
they eagerly traded buffalo robes and buf- 
falo leathers for all of it that they could 
possibly obtain" [Schultz and Donaldson 

While a wide range of Yellowstone-con- 
nected Indian peoples depended to a greater or 
lesser degree on this plant, one of the most de- 
tailed tribal summaries has been compiled on ca- 
mas use by the Flathead and their neighbors by 
anthropologist Richard T. Malouf (1979). Attempt- 
ing to understand the place of Flathead camas prac- 
tices within their annual subsistence pattern, 
Malouf first quotes Indian Agent R.H. Lansdale 
from around 1860: 

They go to buffalo every year — first in 
April, "to Bulls," as it is called, returning 
the latter part of June; the second, or fall 
hunt, "for Cows," they start in August, and 
get back generally in December or March 
following. The "bitter root" is dug and 
cured in May; the "camash" in June and 
July [Weisel 1955:112]. 

Known by a number of terms to delineate 
whether or not the plant was raw, cooked, or of 
the smaller, sweet sub-species, these bulbs were 
so vital to the Flathead diet that they dubbed the 
month of June, "Camas Moon" (Curtis 1907-30, 
VII:185; Turney-High 1937:24, 252). Throughout 
the Intermountain region, Indians kept a ready eye 
for the ripening of the black seeds in the camas 
pods after the wet meadows became covered with 
carpets of swaying flowers that looked "like a blue 
lake" (Murphey 1969:14). For some tribes around 
Yellowstone National Park, such as the Shoshone 
and Flathead, this harvest was generally a family 
affair; for others, like the Nez Perce, it was more 
communal, with up to a hundred or more Indians 
joining together in a summer root-digging camp 
(Curtis 1907-30, VIII:43). 

No sooner had the camas petals begun to wilt 
than the ready pods indicated that the bulbs' stored 
energy was at its peak and that their black skin 
was easiest to peel off (Malouf 1979: 15). As Flat- 
head families returned each year to their favored 
digging grounds, it was largely women who did 
the work, with much of the effort by grandmoth- 
ers and their grandchildren poking two-and-a-half 
foot-long elk antler or fire-hardened digging sticks 
made from serviceberry wood to loosen the ground 
around the bulbs and uproot them (see citations in 
Malouf 1979:19). From sunrise to late afternoon 
each woman covered about a half acre a day and 
could accumulate a bushel's worth of roots which 

Chapter 5. Sojourners from the South: Shoshone 213 

they stored in special baskets or rawhide bags 
(Malouf 1979:26). 

Once stripped of their onion-like skin, the 
crunchy bulbs could be enjoyed raw on the spot, 
but the bulk of their crop was cooked in round 
roasting pits which were dug right at their tempo- 
rary gathering camps. These underground ovens 
could range frorn 14 to 235 cubic feet (Malouf 
1979:3 1 ). Exactly how they were preheated varied 
considerably, depending on whether the firewood 
or river boulders came first, or whether the rocks 
were heated elsewhere before being laid inside. 
Once the firewood had burned down, however, and 
the floor was cleared of its ashes, some grass or 
other foliage was laid upon the hot rocks that were 
left inside, and the sacks of camas roots were laid 
inside, with black tree moss (Alectoria sp.) some- 
times added for flavor. Often the camas bulbs were 
placed in layers, with intervening tiers of grass and 
moss, the whole topped by moistened moss, bark 
or rocks with a final cap of a buffalo robe to seal 
in the steam. Or a final fire sometimes burned atop 
the pit as well. 

From many bits of data summarized by 
Malouf we know that any of the moist, soft and 
sweet camas which were not eaten immediately 
were dried — often pounded first with pestles — in 
the form of loaves or cakes (Malouf 1979:34). If 
kept dry, camas could store in rawhide bags in- 
definitely, with the explorer David Thompson re- 
membering some that were edible after thirty-six 
years on the shelf (White 1950:57a). But the plant 
could also be boiled and eaten in a gelatinous stew, 
or when boiled with meat broth or powdered with 
black moss and simmered in blood it made a prized 
hot beverage. All these methods yielded a 
starchless, fructose-rich, energy-intensive food 
source for Indian peoples. 

Among the Flathead, Salish and Kootenai the 
cycle of camas harvesting and processing culmi- 
nated in special ceremonies. Immediately after the 
harvest, the Flathead staged an outdoor thanksgiv- 
ing Camas Dance back in their home village. But 
a more important celebration associated with the 
plant opened their Midwinter Festival in January, 
and was immediately followed by the Bluejay 
Dance. An anticipatory ritual for maximizing an 
adequate supply from the camas meadows the next 
June, this celebration also provided a time for seal- 

Figure 5.5. Drawing of Camas plant from Guide to 
Common Edible Plants of British Columbia by Adam 
F. Szczawinski and George A. Hardy, illustration by 
Frank L. Beebe, Victoria, B.C.; Provincial Museum, 
Aug. 1967, page 50. 

ing marriages and social interaction (Malouf 

As for narrative traditions connected with the 
plant, Malouf found them hard to come by. Wher- 
ever he was able to turn up folklore, however, the 
origin of camas was always attributed to the cul- 
ture hero. Coyote. An unpublished M.A. thesis by 
Ron Stubbs contains the Flathead comment that 
as Coyote traveled along he distributed their bulbs 
across the landscape out of a bag he carried, like 
an Indian version of Johnny Appleseed (Stubbs 
1966:53). But the more common motif has Coyote 
creating them out of his backside, from his excre- 
ment. The Blackfeet word for camas, noted Ed- 
ward Curtis, also means dung (Curtis 1907-30: (6), 
169). Then Malouf repeats a story heard from a 
Kootenai in which the places where Coyote def- 
ecated become camas prairies (Malouf 1979:41). 
From the same tribe Teit had already collected a 
story, "Coyote Goes Visiting," in which Moose 
"slapped his backside," boiled up the camas that 
came out and fed it to Coyote (Boas 1918: 1 1 ). The 
fullest version of this puzzling equation between 
camas and excrement was published early on by 
W.J. Hoffman in 1883 (Hoffman 1883:24-40). and 
which Willard rewrote in 1992 as follows: 

Coyote and his five sons went travelling 
one day to visit Elk. who also had five sons. 
When they arrived at Elk's lodge they 
found no one home and nothing to eat. 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

They were quite angry and put out because 
they were very hungry. Shortly Elk arrived 
and after greeting his guests leaned over 
and picked up a stick and started digging 
his backside with it. Out came camas roots. 
Coyote was very disturbed. He felt it was 
impolite to serve one's guest dung and so 
he loudly complained. Elk said, "that is not 
dung but delicious camas root. I often carry 
them that way when I travel", Coyote tried 
them and found them quite tasty. He and 
his sons ate their fill. 

When Coyote departed, he asked Elk to 
visit him some day. The next day Elk 
showed up. Coyote went over and picked 
up a stick to dig at his own backside, only 
to cause a wound. Elk said that only he 
could do it so he took the stick and pro- 
duced another feast of camas from his 
backside. As a form of friendship, Elk 
spread material from his backside all 
around the area to form camas roots 
[Willard 1992:48]. 

The two alternative explanations for this as- 
sociation between excrement and camas might be 
termed the mimetic and the psychoanalytic. 
Willard offers the explanation based upon mime- 
sis, or similarity, when he adds at the end of his 
rendition of the narrative, "To this day, camas roots 
appear a little bit like elk or moose dung when 
they are first dug up, and after they are roasted." 
While Malouf concurs that from such narratives 
"one could conclude that the allusion was due to 
the similar appearance of cooked camas bulbs and 
the excrement of large members of the deer fam- 
ily," he confesses puzzlement at the fact that the 
Stubbs comment mentioned above refers less to 
Coyote's excrement than to the camas prairie land- 
scape where his defecation took place (Malouf 

But the psychoanalytic interpretation of such 
a story is unconcerned with similarities in physi- 
cal appearance and looks instead at psychological 
mechanisms for responding to cultural dynamics. 
Whether it relates to the creation of human beings 
or to their most precious foodstuffs, the "creation 
out of excrement" motif has been noted by folk- 
lorists in quite a number of American Indian nar- 
rative contexts (see Thompson 1966:356, Motif 
#285, for summary of Indian citations involving 

"Trickster creates men of excrement"). In the best 
summary of this Freudian-based approach, folk- 
lorist Alan Dundes has tried to make sense of the 
overwhelming number of narratives in which hu- 
man beings are created by males out of their anal 
passages (Dundes 1984). To a psychoanalytically 
minded folklorist, the explanation for this recur- 
rent motif is that this is the male form of "penis 
envy;" that is, that men are jealous of the female 
power to give birth and hence through such sto- 
ries they project a fantasy of being able to do so 
all on their own. In the narrative above, this line 
of explanation might suggest that men are envi- 
ous of the prerogatives women enjoy in Plateau 
or Great Basin societies for supplying the primary 
foodstuffs. This explanation would even equate the 
"stick" mentioned in the above story with a male 
organ, and it would argue that in the kind of auto- 
erotic act for which Coyote is hilariously famous 
in American Indian folklore (Bright 1993:70-72), 
he manages to impregnate himself with it and "give 
birth" to the precious substance that is camas, 
thereby reclaiming for men both the power to give 
life and the credit for this life-supporting plant. 
Most native people, it must be added, would prob- 
ably dismiss such an explanation as a ridiculous 
example of non-Indian theorizing. For them Coy- 
ote is simply performing one of his defining tasks on 
their behalf, offering laughter along with sustenance. 

Rise and Reconsideration of the 
Yellowstone "Taboo" Theory 

It was while working among the Wind River 
Shoshone whose traditions impacted on the south- 
ern and the southeastern reaches of Yellowstone 
National Park that the Swedish historian of reli- 
gions, Ake Hultkrantz, first developed his theo- 
retical position which valued the ecological dimen- 
sion of Indian belief-systems. His Eastern Shos- 
hone and Sheep Eater researches began in 1948, 
when the Swedish Society for Anthropology and 
Geography's Vega Fund provided Hultkrantz with 
a stipend for fieldwork in Wyoming over that sum- 
mer and fall. The following year Hultkrantz wrote 
a brief comment on "Cultural Formations among 
the Wyoming Shoshone Indians" for the European 
publication, Ymer (1949), and an essay on Shos- 

Chapter 5. Sojourners from the South: Shoshone 215 

hone concepts of the soul for Ethnos appeared two 
years later. But his summary treatment on "The 
Indians and the Wonders of Yellowstone" for 
Ethnos would first appear in 1954. 

Realizing that it would take more than a few 
months in the field to do justice to the Shoshones' 
social and religious culture, Hultkrantz applied for 
additional Vega funding, and also received a grant 
from the States Social and Law Scientific Research 
Council. Returning to work in Wyoming from June 
1955 to January 1956, Hultkrantz focused his in- 
terviews upon the Wind River community, espe- 
cially the so-called "Sage Creek" group of Sheep 
Eater descendants and traditionalists. Yet he also 
spent time with the neighboring Arapaho in the 
community of Ethete, and accompanied the expe- 
rienced Yellowstone hand, Jack E. Haynes, around 
the mountain haunts of the Sheep Eaters. At the 
same time he conducted archival research at the 
Indian agencies of Fort Washakie and Fort Hall, 
dug into the Yellowstone National Park files at 
Mammoth Hot Springs, the Library of Congress 
materials in Washington, D.C., and the Wyoming 
state archives in Laramie. For help with hard-to- 
get documents Hultkrantz was aided by Dr. Rob- 
ert F. Murphy, of the University of California, who 
with his wife Yolanda had conducted a study of 
Shoshonean bands. 

From this data base Hultkrantz launched a 
prolific and distinguished writing career, recon- 
structing the subtle differences between the 
lifeways of fishing, buffalo and sheep hunting 
Shoshoneans. interpreting their oral traditions, and 
refining what he called an "ecological" interpre- 
tation of native religious practices. As an example 
of such an interpretation, Hultkrantz seemed to stay 
fixated on the impact that the Yellowstone gey- 
sers had on the belief systems of Indians, and 
undissuaded from his conviction that they consid- 
ered the park region to be taboo because of their 
fear of its natural thermal phenomena. "And this 
tabooing rendered impossible, inter alia" he con- 
cluded, "a more intensive exploitation of the Park 
for transit and for settlement" (Hultkrantz 1954:66). 

Now Hultkrantz became aware that the 
greater part of what he termed American Indian 
"popular tradition" regarding Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park had come from Shoshone peoples, most 
particularly from the Eastern Shoshone at Wind 
River (Hultkrantz 1954:42). However his opening 
example of second-hand ethnohistorical data was 
actually vague as to tribal derivation, and it also 
contained some internal contradictions. It was a 
quote from a letter he found in Hiram Chittenden's 
famous history of the park, which the famous Je- 
suit missionary Father Pierre De Smet wrote from 

Figure 5.6. Ake 

Hultkrantz at Norris 

Geyser Basin, 

Yellowstone National 

Park, July 26, 1994 

(author photo). 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

St. Louis in January 1852, where the priest de- 
scribed the geysers he had heard about but never 


The hunters and the Indians speak of it with 
superstitious fear, and consider it the abode 
of evil spirits, that is to say, a kind of hell. 
Indians seldom approach it without offer- 
ing some sacrifice, or, at least, without pre- 
senting the calumet of peace to the turbu- 
lent spirits, that they may be propitious. 
They declare that the subterranean noises 
proceed from the forging of warlike weap- 
ons; each eruption of the earth is, in their 
eyes, the result of combat between their 
infernal spirits, and becomes the monu- 
ment of a new victory or calamity 
[Chittenden and Richardson 1905:661]. 

And a dozen years later DeSmet reiterated 
this impression of Indian attitudes towards the re- 

The Indians pass these places in profound 
silence and with superstitious dread. They 
regard them as "the abode of underground 
spirits always at war with one another, and 
continually at the anvil forging their weap- 
ons." They never pass without leaving 
some offering on a conspicuous point of 
that mysterious region" [Chittenden and 
Richardson 1905:1377-78]. 

For all his growing knowledge of Shoshone 
belief-systems, Hultkrantz never seems to have 
analyzed the inconsistencies in De Smet's remarks. 
For example, we never hear whether or not the 
Shoshone cosmology included any kind of "hell," 
if there was any ethnographic documentation that 
their "infernal spirits" fought against each other 
[most epic wars in American Indian mythology 
are between proto-humans and supernatural be- 
ings], in what way such evil spirits might be also 
"propitious," or how they might have had metal 
weapons that required "forging" prior to the ad- 
vent of white society. 

These problems with De Smet's report lead 
one to wonder how much of this picture might have 
been a projection of Euro- American society rather 
than any reflection of Indian thought. Indeed, even 
before the park's infancy and early years it is not 
exactly clear which ethnic group, white or Indian, 
may have treated these hot pools and spouts with 
greater trepidation and terror. 

Euro-American Demonizing of 
Yellowstone's Thermal Field 

The following series of comments by early 
non-Indians visiting Yellowstone underscore atti- 
tudes which might well have been projected onto 
native cultures. 

Item. In what editor Leroy R. Hafen calls the 
"fictionalized history" of George Ruxton's west- 
ern travels in the late 1840s, there is an account of 
white responses towards the country just over the 
divide from the deep Yellowstone Canyon, which 
was "full of beaver, as well as abounding in the 
less desirable commodity of Indians." As Ruxton 

This was the valley lying about the lakes 
now called Eustis and Biddle, in which are 
many thermal and mineral springs, well 
known to the trappers by the names of 
Soda, Beer, and Brimstone Springs, and 
regarded by them with no little awe and 
curiosity, as being the breathing places of 
his Satanic majesty — considered, more- 
over, to be the "biggest mind" of "Medi- 
cine" to be found in the mountains. If truth 
be told, old Bill hardly relished the idea 
entering this country, which he pronounced 
to be of "bad medicine" notoriety... 
[Ruxton 1951:117]. 

Item. Just before his comments above on the 
unspecified Indian fears regarding hot spots in the 
general Yellowstone region, Father P.J. De Smet 
wrote of the "Colter's Hell" [probably DeMaris 
Springs, near Cody, Wyoming (Mattes 1949)] that, 
"This locality is often agitated with subterranean 
fires. The sulphurous gases which escape in great 
volumes from the burning soil infect the atmo- 
sphere for several miles, and render the earth so 
barren that even the wild wormwood cannot grow 
on it. The beaver-hunters [Euro- American moun- 
tain men] have assured me that the underground 
noises and explosions are frightful" (Chittenden 
and Richardson 1905:79). 

Item. During his expedition of 1870, 
Nathaniel Langford could not avoid similar lan- 
guage in his description of a thermal area south of 
Mount Washburn: 

The spring lying to the east, more diaboli- 
cal in appearance, [was] filled with a 

Chapter 5. Sojourners from the South: Shoshone 217 

brownish substance of the consistence of 
thin mucilage, emitting fumes of villain- 
ous odor... This was a most perfect real- 
ization of Shakespeare's image in 
Macbeth-and I fancied the "black and 
midnight hags" concocting a charm 
around this horrible cauldron [Langford 
1905:97 J. 

Item. To Lord William Blackmore, a British 
anthropologist, the thermal springs he saw during 
his 1872 trip through the park were "horrible and 
appalling." He could well understand the impres- 
sion "that you have at length come to the entrance 
to the infernal regions. I have never seen anything 
so thoroughly diabolical in my life" (Blackmore 

Item. During the Jones reconnaissance into 
the park in the summer of 1873, the scout who 
seemed most afraid of the geysers turned out to be 
a white man, not an Indian. And Jones invoked 
Christian and not Pagan cosmology as a way to 
contextualize the man's reaction: "The spot has 
most of the physical characteristics of our best 
authenticated conceptions of hell; and one of our 
guides, who discovered it, did not tarry, for he felt 
certain that 'the devil was not far off" (Jones 

Item. Should we deduce anything about 
America's ambivalent relationship to "wilderness" 
from the fact that few locales in the United States 
are as plastered with demonic place-names as this 
symbolic center of our national park system? 
Writes Merrill D. Beal, "Surely [the park founders] 
concepts of Christian theology rendered them 
acutely conscious of the attributes and environ- 
ment of His Satanic Majesty" when they provided 
such place-names as Devil's Slide, Hellbroth 
Springs, Brimstone, Devil's Hoof. Devil's Den, 
Devil's Kitchen, Hell's Half Acre and Hell Roar- 
ing Mountain (Beal 1956:122), among the over 
fifty-five such diabolic toponyms once used in the 
park tallied by Lee Whittlesey (Whittlesey 
1 988:xxxix, a figure which the author has currently 
updated to "56 devil, 6 hell, and 3 satan place 
names" personal communication, July 1999). 

Item. Reviewing such early comparisons be- 
tween these thermal hot spots and Christian cos- 
mology led Yellowstone afficionado Gary 
Ferguson to conclude that: 

Clearly, infatuation with hell and evil is 
much more a trait of white visitors and 
explorers than Native Americans. And 
given the Christian preoccupation with 
wickedness, it's easy to see how one might 
interpret the offering of gifts [by Indians] 
to a geyser basin as an attempt to please an 
angry, fearsome god. Indeed, this tendency 
to project a European view of the cosmos 
on other cultures is found in much of our 
so-called "Indian lore" [Ferguson 

Attitudes About Yellowstone 
Imputed to Indians 

What is revealing about the Euro-American 
citations listed above is how many of their analo- 
gies, rhetorical turns and moral implications are 
reflected in attitudes about the Yellowstone ther- 
mal area that are attributed, often by the same writ- 
ers, to Native Americans. For a sense of this re- 
markable similarity here is a representative sample 
of comments about American Indians and their 
alleged feelings about the area: 

Item. Contended Walter Trumbull, a mem- 
ber of the Washburn Expedition of 1870, "...the 
unscientific savage finds little to interest him 
in... places [like the thermal hot spots]." Instead, 
Trumbull argued that Indians "would give [such 
places] . . .wide berth, believing them sacred to Sa- 
tan" (Trumbull 1871:436). 

Item. When General Philip Sheridan was 
contemplating visiting the park in 1877 — during 
the very same year when the Nez Perce would 
cause havoc as they cut through the place — he re- 
assured his superiors that he envisioned no prob- 
lems with Indians since the region was "to their 
superstitious minds associated with hell by reason 
of its geysers and hot-springs" (quoted in Ferguson 

Item. Looking back on her tragic experience 
with the Nez Perce in the park in 1877. Mrs. G.F. 
Cowan reiterated the prevailing opinion at the time: 

We are told that the Indian is superstitious. 
To him anything out of the ordinary must 
be possessed of the Evil One. The phenom- 
ena of the geysers account for the fact very 
probably that this land is not now and never 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

has been an Indian country. Few Indian 
trails are found within the boundaries of 
the Park, as they are in other parts of the 
West. Yet, this year, of all others, the Indi- 
ans are very much in evidence in the Na- 
tional Park, as we found to our evidence 
[Cowan 1903:159]. 

It is possible that after her park experience 
Mrs. Cowan accepted what she was "told," and 
made exactly the causal connection between In- 
dian beliefs about the park and the lack of Indian 
presence there which Superintendent Norris hoped 
for in his soothing annual reports. 

Item. This sort of reliance on what Norris 
construed to be Indian beliefs was evident in his 
comments in 1880, when he claimed that the Shos- 
hone and Bannock were "deterred less by these 
natural obstacles [the high mountains and deep 
snows] than by a superstitious awe concerning the 
rumbling and hissing sulphur fumes of the spout- 
ing geysers and other hot springs" (Norris 1880:35). 

Item. Entering the park from the south with 
his Shoshone guide seven years later, the Owen 
Wister party "sealed our rifles" because of the ban 
on hunting, and then "took our way into the 
haunted land, the domain possessed of devils, 
shunned by the Indians of old" (Wister 1936:473). 

Item. Writing his historical sketch of the park 
in 1907, John H. Raftery attempted to synthesize 
Indian attitudes towards the region as follows: 

Out of the vague, unwritten lore of Indian 
tradition come the remote rumors of an 
enchanted land among the mountains 
where the rivers boiled, the earth burned 
and haunted lakes tossed spectral plumes 
of scalding steam into the zenith. Here in 
cauldrons of gypsum or jasper or jade the 
evil spirits mixed their war paint, and from 
peak and promontory, in the valleys, and 
on the hills could be seen the spiral smoke 
of their bale fires. The nomads of the 
Northwest shunned it as a land of evil haunt 
of prowled around its margins in awesome 
fear and reverence [Raftery 1943:101-102]. 

Item. We are informed by historian Grace 
Hebard that the Shoshones, along with: 

all other tribes who knew of the mysteri- 
ous nature of the Yellowstone National 
Park, believed that the geysers, paint pots 

and weird rumblings were a real conflict 
of the evil spirits as they fought within the 
recesses of the earth; for this reason, the 
wonder of the park was shunned and feared 
by the red man [Hebard 1995:307]. 

Apparently recycling De Smet's comments 
without any cultural critique or contextualization, 
Hebard here compounds her errors of (a) lumping 
"all" tribal beliefs in the area and then, (b) with- 
out any documentation stating that they share some 
belief in combat between underworld evil spirit 
by (c) the following implausible scene almost cer- 
tainly borrowed from Father de Smet: 

When acting as escorts or scouts for mili- 
tary or exploration forces marching into the 
Yellowstone country, the Shoshones al- 
ways offered up a sacrifice before enter- 
ing the land where were "the rumbles 
within the earth that heralded the geyser 
eruptions, which the red man regarded as 
the forging of warlike weapons by the spir- 
its; each eruption bespoke a victory or de- 
feat of one band of spirits" [Hebard 

As we have seen, well before Hultkrantz en- 
tered the debate, this matter of Indian reactions to 
the Yellowstone National Park thermal fields and 
geyser basins became politicized. Early park boost- 
ers used the dubious comparisons to substantiate 
the idea that superstitious, terrified Indians steered 
clear of entire geyser basins and detoured around 
the heart of the park (see early park guidebook 
entries following this line such as: Harry J. Norton 
[1873:31], George W. Wingate [1886:139], A.B. 
Guptill [1890, 1894], Emerson Hough [1933:13] 
and more recent examples — -Carl Schreier [1983]). 
By the late 19th century the notion of Indians stay- 
ing away from the park because they feared its 
spirits had become a truism of Yellowstone his- 
tory. It permeated popular consciousness and was 
often invoked when the topic of Indians in the park 
came up. 

So far we have briefly sketched the spectrum 
of Anglo-European (a) emotional attitudes towards 
Yellowstone's hot spots, and (b) their portrayals 
of Indian responses to those same places. Now let 
us resume the efforts we have made in Chapters 1 
and 3 to see the thermal wonders of the region 
through Indian eyes. 

Chapter 5. Sojourners from the South: Shoshone 219 

Native Beliefs and Practices 
About Hot Springs and Geysers 

We will begin this review with our recent 
inquiries into Plains, Plateau and Great Basin In- 
dian attitudes toward hot springs and geysers. As 
for thermal pools, virtually all the Shoshonean 
consultants to our study concurred that they held 
positive curative benefits. 

To SW, a Shoshone elder from Fort 
Washakie, the thermal outlets such as those at 
Thermopolis, Wyoming, "got some kind of good 
power." He went on to emphasize that different 
tribes passing through would camp there because 
its hot waters were "good for the bones" and alle- 
viated the pains of rheumatism and arthritis. Fur- 
thermore, "if you can swim in here with the musk- 
rats you'll never get a cold." This consultant also 
perceived a subterranean connection between the 
Yellowstone geysers — most specifically "that 
place where the water came out," or Old Faith- 

ful—and other thermal pools further away. "This 
[the Fort Washakie hot spring] is a branch of it 
[Old Faithful]," he claimed, "and [also] down 
through Thermopolis." Or as he would later elabo- 
rate regarding Old Faithful, "it's a vein" (SW and 
BS Interview, Fort Washakie. November 14. 1995). 
According to other Eastern Shoshone advis- 
ers, soaking in such waters — known in their lan- 
guage as bow-we-ran or "steaming water" — not 
only assuaged aches in the bones, but drinking the 
liquid also alleviated problems with ulcers and gall 
stones — "Even today when they have the reenact- 
ment for the Gift of Waters, they drink that water 
in the reenactment" (FT, MJG and ZE Interview, 
Fort Washakie, February 4, 1996). In addition to 
the waters, the earthen byproducts at the hot springs 
were considered healthy. Said FT. "[Our grand- 
parents] even told us that they would go down there 
just to be in that water. There is also what they call 
mud-bath, in Thermopolis, by the river. They 
would go in there and cover themselves with mud. 
That used to cure sores or things on your body; it 

Figure 5. 7. Old Indian campsite in Yellowstone thermal area, near Lone Situ- Geyser ( Photo courtesy of 
Yellowstone National Park Archives, Catalog #YELL 37824). 


American Indians unci Yellowstone National l';irk 

would bring out that sickness in your body." 

That interview session revealed other uses 
of minerals at hot springs as well. The paste-like 
"white clay build-up" found there was used to 
whitewash buckskins, or was packed around swol- 
len joints to draw out the pain. Mixed with water 
it was ingested — "like Alka-Seltzer" or "Milk of 
Magnesia" — for indigestion. And it was part of a 
decoction drunk when water is permitted for the 
fasting participants at a Sun Dance: 

And then for a religion that meets secretly, 
they also took that clay, and mashed it up 
into a fine clay powder. After Sun Dance 
they put that in their fresh drinking 
water... Then you don't get sick and get 
cramps in your stomach after your first 
drink... [They collected it] in the special 
place. Most of the people here either get it 
in Idaho now and in Yellowstone ["At 
Mammoth Springs. That is where they usu- 
ally get it at, at Mammoth Springs" — 
MJG]...But you have to get permission 
from the Park Service. . .It takes quite a lot 
to get permission [FT Interview, Fort 
Washakie, February 4, 1996]. 

These conversations with contemporary 
Eastern and Northern Shoshones also disclosed a 
highly personal use of these thermal areas. After 
some warm-up discussion with Fort Hall elders, 
one consultant, who maintained her own great 
grandfather had been buried within Yellowstone 
National Park, confided: 

In some of those areas, too, up in the high 
country Yellowstone area, people buried 
Bannock in those areas. Some of the 
people, depending on who the individual 
was, his ranking in the band or the tribe or 
the group, whoever he was with... they 
would bury them right in the springs, the 
hot springs... They would just drop them 
down in there. Then, depending on who it 
was and what kind of ranking they had, 
whether they were a warrior or just an eld- 
erly person or one with medicine powers 
or other powers, they were buried in the 
springs, up in the hills, in lava 
beds. . .Generally, the chiefs were the ones 
who were dropped into the hot springs, the 
leaders you might say, because that was 
the quickest way for them to get where they 
were going [GE Interview, Fort Hall, No- 
vember 18, 1995]. 

Joseph Weixelman was told by a Shoshone 
consultant that the hot springs were "a natural 
Jacuzzi for us. . .It's healthy .. .there is a lot of value 
to these springs" (Weixelman 1992:57). When 
consultants suggested to him that offerings, such 
as arrowheads, might be left at such sites, with the 
understanding that they were to remain there un- 
disturbed, Weixelman wondered whether that 
might explain the stone point found by George Marler 
while cleaning a hot spring in the Firehole Geyser 
Basin in 1959 (Weixelman 1992:55; Marler 1973). 

Such contemporary statements have their 
resonance in the ethnographic and ethnohistorical 
literature on the Shoshone and their neighbors, 
which is peppered with observations on the posi- 
tive value of springs, both hot and cold. The affin- 
ity of the Wind River Shoshone for the "healing 
waters" at Big Spring and Washakie's Plunge has 
been well documented. Located at the northern end 
of the reservation, here Chief Washakie and his 
people bathed to relieve their rheumatism and 
muscular pains (Trenholm and Carley 1964:286- 
311). Working among the Northern and Gosiute 
Shoshone, for example, Juliam H. Steward learned 
that "a hot spring near Yellowstone was favored 
[for obtaining powers], but was dangerous because 
of proximity to Blackfoot," and that "Powers 
whose identity were unknown to SB [his consult- 
ant], were acquired, however, at Soda Springs 
near Lava Hot Springs" in Idaho (Steward 

As Hultkrantz himself found while doing 
research in the Bureau of Indian Affairs archives 
at Salt Lake City, the Shoshone Indians known as 
"Walkers" were noted for seeking out hot springs 
for their warmth. As the Salt Lake Valley In- 
dian agent wrote to the Secretary of the Interior 
in 1849: 

There are many warm and hot springs 
throughout this country, and it is said to be 
no uncommon thing to see the Indians shel- 
tering themselves and their children from 
the bleak and terrible storms which pre- 
vail in these grand and rugged mountains, 
by lying during a great part of the day and 
perhaps night too in water [Letter of John 
Wilson, quoted in Hultkrantz 1979:34]. 

In the broader Plains region the mutual rec- 
ognition of the power of a sacred spring could even 

Chapter 5. Sojourners from the South: Shoshone 221 

temporarily quell animosity between blood en- 
emies. In the late 1840s the chronicler George Ruxton 
heard the following story from a Brule Lakota: 

One evening he drew near a certain "medi- 
cine" spring, where, to his astonishment, 
he encountered a Crow warrior in the act 
of quenching his thirst. He was on the point 
of drawing his bow upon him, when he 
remembered the sacred nature of the spot, 
and making a sign of peace, he fearlessly 
drew near his foe, and proceeded like-wise 
to slake his thirst. A pipe of kinnik-kinnik 
being produced, it was proposed to pass 
away the early part of the night in a game 
of "hand" [Ruxton 1951:101-102]. 

In this context we might reiterate the sug- 
gested Crow Indian use of such healing springs 
cited in Chapter 1 . In 1830 a Frenchman named 
Henri Bleau heard from a fellow countryman, 
known only as Robaire, regarding some "wonder- 
ful boiling springs, not far distant, whose waters 
he said were a cure for all diseases that man was 
heir to" (Sharman 1902:31). Their conversation 
occurred on present Henry's Lake in Idaho, but to 
park archivist Lee Whittlesey the spring site sounds 
more like Mammoth Hot Springs. Along with 
about fifteen Crow Indian families, who may or 
may not have been his guide, when Robaire went 
to the springs: 

...he was so badly crippled up with rheu- 
matism that he could not take a step with- 
out crutches, and now he was as straight 
and active as a young man. There were 
several in our party who had been suffer- 
ing from this disease, and I was among the 
number. We were delighted and determined 
to visit the medical springs and test their 
healing qualities before another month had 
elapsed [Sharman 1902:31]. 

In addition to their use for curative purposes, 
we also have documentary backing for assertions 
by our consultants that Shoshones chose such 
springs as prime spots for human burials. Before 
his death in October 1884, the famous Shoshone 
chief Pocatello made arrangements for his intern- 
ment at a sacred spring near the American Falls. 
As Judge Walter T Oliver described this remark- 
able ceremony: 

First we took the chief and wound all his 
clothing around him, then tied his guns, 
knives, and all his hunting equipment and 
relics to the clothing with willow things 
and tossed him out into the middle of the 
spring, and he went to the bottom quickly. 
Then the Indians took the eighteen head of 
horses, killed them one by one and rolled 
them into the spring on top of the old man, 
and they too were soon out of sight, for 
the spring is said to have no bottom [quoted 
in Madsen 1986:112-113]. 

An even more astonishing example of a simi- 
lar-sounding burial on Utah's Shoshone-Ute 
boundary was reported in 1855 by George W. Bean, 
a Mormon missionary to the Indians. Leaving 
Redden's Springs and heading for the Rush Val- 
ley, Bean and his group came upon a warm salt 
water spring which was used for burial by Indians 
whose camp remains Bean could detect on nearby 
hillsides. What Bean saw in the warm waters was 
almost unbelievable: 

This crust of elevation had been formed 
by the continuous overflow of the mineral 
water, hardened by its contact with the cold 
air and projecting over at the top. What was 
most curious, was the six Indian bodies 
standing bolt upright and crusted over with 
the salty deposit in this lake, giving them 
the appearance of mummies. It was evi- 
dent that they had heavy weights attached 
to their lower extremities, thus keeping 
them perpendicular with their heads three 
or four feet below the surface of the water. 
It appeared that other corpses were back 
of these [Home 1945:114]. 

Some reinforcement for this practice of burial 
in the vicinity of hot springs also comes from the 
Wind River Shoshone elder, Rupert Weeks. At the 
end of a story about obsidian. Weeks described a 
trade between his father and white traders in which 
knives and flintlock rifles were exchanged. As 
for the ultimate deposition of the rifle. Weeks told 
his grandchildren: 

It is buried with your great-grandfather 
near Wonzee Kawdee, the place where 
male antelope feed on top of a high pla- 
teau south of Dea Pa Qee Wuana. the little 
hot springs. We lowered him into a deep 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Figure 5.8. Crow Indian Max Big Man and wife at Yellowstone National Park geyser (Photo courtesy of 
Yellowstone National Park Archives, Catalog #YELL 37806). 

hole and covered him with stones, so that 
the coyotes and wolves would not dig up 
his resting place [Weeks 1981:31]. 

And early Indian fascination for the process 
of calcification is underscored by a curious anec- 
dote from a Washington, D.C., architect who, as a 
25-year-old, accompanied a trading expedition in 
1 839-40 which explored the volcanic field around 
the headwaters of the Yellowstone. Wrote E. 
Willard Smith in his journal entry for December 
20, 1839: 

Mr. Vasquez told me he went to the top of 
one of these volcanoes, the crater of which 
was filled with pure water, forming quite a 
large lake, There is a story told by an 
Arapahoe chief of the petrified buffalo 
standing in the lake on the east side of the 
mountains. It was in a perfect state of pres- 
ervation, and they worship it as a great 
medicine charm. There are also many moc- 
casin and buffalo tracks in the solid rock 
along the side of the lake. Nothing would 
induce this Indian to tell where the sacred 
buffalo is to be found. Great presents were 
offered to him in vain [Barry 1939:36]. 

It may be precisely because the Indians were 
inspired rather than repelled by the Mammoth Hot 
Springs, hints Yellowstone ranger Dan R. Sholly, 
that outsiders had to discover them for themselves: 

It was easy to see why the Indians had 
never told the white man of such spec- 
tacles. They looked supernatural, espe- 
cially with their vapors writhing so thickly 
in the cold [Sholly and Newman 1991 :37]. 

Finally, there is the conjecture of geologist 
George Marler that one important Indian hot-bath 
was located directly in the Lower Geyser Basin. A 
circular pool about sixty feet in diameter, Marler 
believed that the thickness of its mineral deposit 
suggested that it had been purposefully constructed 
sometime before 1870, known variously as Tank 
Pool, Ranger Pool or Old Bath Lake, he consid- 
ered it one of the park's "most important archeo- 
logical sites" (Marler 1973a:462). 

In the face of citations such as these, and 
persuaded by Carling Malouf 's additional archaeo- 
logical evidence that Indians had not shied away 
from Yellowstone's hot spots, Hultkrantz tempered 
his "Yellowstone taboo" hypothesis to draw a dis- 

Chapter 5. Sojourners from the South: Shoshone 223 

tinction between geysers and hot springs. As he 
narrowed his argument for a 1979 reappraisal Hult- 
krantz wrote that, "The indications of dangerous 
spots in Yellowstone Park all refer to the geysers, 
not to the less dramatic hot springs" (Hultkrantz 
1979, emphasis ours). For the moment we will 
ignore the fact that sensible members of many 
cultures might, be expected to experience awe, 
apprehension, caution and perhaps even fear in the 
face of boiling hot waters, steaming vapors and 
life-like growling sounds that emerge out of deep 
holes in ashen-colored ground that breaks like crust 
beneath their feet. And if they had children with 
them they might be expected to agree that such 
places are just as dangerous as Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park signs with slashed red circles warn us 
they are today. 

As with hot springs, however, so with gey- 
sers. Once again, documentary information sug- 
gests that when they wanted Indians could ap- 
proach Yellowstone's even more explosively vola- 
tile thermal locations. We know, for instance, that 
George Harvey Bacon, a miner from Montana, was 
led to the Upper Geyser Basin by "a friendly band 
of Indians" in 1865 (J.H. Bacon, "Letter regard- 
ing George Harvey Bacon's visits to Yellowstone 
area from 1864 to 1873," Yellowstone Research 
Library, in Weixelman 1992:70). On August 12, 
1935, a 74-year-old Nez Perce elder from Idaho 
named White Hawk visited the park to reminisce 
about the old days and to visit key sites associated 
with Chief Joseph's famous retreat. At the time 
White Hawk had been a teenager in charge of herd- 
ing and feeding the rebels' horses. With him on 
this nostalgic return was Many Wounds, whose 
father had been present when the Nez Perce at- 
tempted to burn down of Baronett's Bridge. In 
Yellowstone National Park naturalist W.E. Kearns' 
description of their tour, at one point the old man 
was questioned about Indian reactions to the ther- 
mal areas: 

When asked if the Indians were afraid of 
the Geysers or hot springs. Chief White 
Hawk replied that they were not, and im- 
plied that the Indians used them for cook- 
ing food. They were a source of wonder, 
undoubtedly, but even these startling mani- 
festations of "Mother Earth" did not alarm 
them | Kearns 1933:411. 

In retrospect, White Hawk's comment ech- 
oed the Nez Perce reaction to the area that was 
made by the warrior Yellow Wolf ("The hot smok- 
ing springs and the high-shooting water were noth- 
ing new to us" — McWhorter 1940:30). It also fol- 
lowed the observations of native attitudes made 
by Frank Carpenter at the actual time of the In- 
dian invasion of the park. To Carpenter it seemed 
that the Nez Perce had no hesitation being in the 
vicinity of geysers in Firehole Basin, and one man 
even "sprang from his horse and picked up a piece 
[of smelly hot sulphur] and began a critical ex- 
amination of it" (Carpenter 1935:128). For further 
evidence that Indians were not exactly adverse to 
this Firehole area we have signs that, for some 
purpose or other, Indians were converging here five 
years earlier. In an article he wrote for a Montana 
periodical, James H. Mills recalled his party of 
travelers meeting with the "Helena Press Expedi- 
tion" just north of the Upper Basin on the Fire- 
hole River: 

Expressing some astonishment at our hav- 
ing come through 'the Indian country on 
the Madison' we learned they had encoun- 
tered two trappers bound down the Yellow- 
stone with hair on end and horses on the 
run, who had 'seen two Indians and 
counted twenty ponies grazing at the mouth 
of the Fire Hole' [Mills, October 12, 1872]. 

Hultkrantz himself heard about the popular- 
ity from J. G.. one of his part-Sheep Eater consult- 
ants, whose grandfather. Rabbit Feet, had been a 
well-known band chief and who had regularly 
summered inside the park: 

They raised their tents close to the Fire- 
hole Geyser Basin (the geysers there as 
well as the other hot springs were called 
pa:gusuuinot "water-steam-standing up""!. 
They watered their horses down at the river. 
The men themselves bathed in the geysers 
whilst they directed their prayers to the 
spirits. J.G. had not heard they were afraid 
of the geysers, but could not maintain the 
opposite either [Hultkrantz 1979:37]. 

And contemporary Indians often respond 
with a chuckle when they are told of the theory 
that their ancestors cowered before these places. 
As our leading Salish-Kootenai consultant said: 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Figure 5.9. Indian rituals returns to Yellowstone Park. In an effort "to restore the harmony between animals 
and men and the earth " which an Ojibwa, a Sioux-Crow and a non-Indian friend of theirs believed had been 
"disrupted by recent events such as the killing of bison who wander out of the Park, " they were permitted to 
hold a Sun Dance above Blacktail Deer Creek in late June 1997 (Billings Gazette, Sunday Magazine Section. 
p. 1E-2E, June 29, 1997). 

Chapter 5. Sojourners from the South: Shoshone 225 

These white historians stated a long time 
ago when Yellowstone Park first opened 
up that the Indian people were afraid of 
the geysers, that they just couldn't under- 
stand them and that they'd run and hide 
whenever these things would go off. I 
talked to some of our elders when I got 
back (from the park) and they just laughed. 
They thought that was funny. Because the 
only reason an Indian person would move 
away from that area is maybe they had 
children with them, and they didn't want 
them to be burnt by that hot scalding wa- 
ter. Our people had a very good common 
sense. Once one person got burnt they 
didn't go back and stick their hand back in 
it again [TT Interview, Pablo, Montana, 
August 22, 1995]. 

Despite the mounting evidence, already pre- 
sented in this document, that argues for ancient 
and historical Indian travel through most corners 
and core locations of Yellowstone National Park, 
the question of Indian relations to its thermal fields 
remains a matter of some debate. To a great extent 
this is because of the tenacity of the Swedish 
scholar, Ake Hultkrantz, who nonetheless has 
modified somewhat in recent years his earlier in- 
sistence that Indians held the entire geyser region 
as a "taboo" area. Both his strident and softened 
viewpoints are combined in one of his most re- 
cent statements about this issue when, as our docu- 
mentary overview hosted Dr. Hultkrantz and his 
wife for a tour of the park on July 26, 1994, Dr. 
Hultkrantz offered the following comment on vid- 

The other [Plain Indian] tribes were very 
much surprised [at the geysers] when they 
came into the park, many of them at least, 
while the Sheep Eaters were quite familiar 
with the features here. . . The information I 
received from the last Sheep Eaters still 
alive who had roamed up in the mountains 
was that they were afraid of the geysers. 
This was quite definite. And I don't think 
that this is a late superstition that was in- 
troduced among them. This is what they 
thought. And we know from the early 
sources, practically all early sources, that 
the Sheep Eaters had this respect and fear 
for the geysers and consequently they 
didn't live exactly close to the geysers but 

out more in the woodlands. This didn't stop 
them from visiting the geysers now and 
then. And I think particulary for religious 
purposes, to have visions there, to give of- 
fering to the spirits, because they believed 
in spirits in the geysers [Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park Archives, Interview with Ake 
Hultkrantz, July 26, 1994]. 

For their part, the officials of Yellowstone 
National Park had already been modifying their 
19th century endorsement of imputed Indian "fear 
of the geysers" and hence on their purported ab- 
sence from the park heartland. In 1927, for in- 
stance, its ranger naturalist manual seemed will- 
ing to remind park employees and interpreters that 
in 1870 the Washburn-Langford expedition had 
found along the east bank of the Yellowstone River 
an old dismantled pit or trench — which could have 
been an Indian hunting blind of the sort described 
in Chapter 3 (Ranger Naturalist Manual of Yel- 
lowstone National Park 1927:19). By 1949, Yel- 
lowstone Ranger- writer Merrill Beal was no longer 
buying the notion that Indians stayed away from 
Yellowstone because of their fear of the place. 
Something of a romantic where Indians were con- 
cerned, he argued that: 

After all, Indians were children of nature; 
the earth was their mother. In Yellowstone 
Mother Earth was especially intriguing. 
They might not understand her; they might 
entertain great respect for her strange mani- 
festations, but cringing trepidation? Hardly 
(Beal 1949:89)! 

And by the summer of 1961 the park's offi- 
cial approach had advanced to the point that its 
press release announcing the donation of a soap- 
stone pot to the Mammoth museum included the 
following statement: 

The National Park Service now believes 
that the Yellowstone Park Area may not 
have been taboo to the nomadic Indian 
tribes which frequented the Northwest in 
prehistoric times. Evidence collected over 
the past several years seems to indicate that 
many tribes have been more or less per- 
manent residents of this geologically mys- 
terious area [Department of the Interior 
Memorandum. National Park Service, Yel- 
lowstone National Park. August 4. 1961]. 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

It is probable that this declaration was drafted 
by Aubrey L. Haines himself. For Haines had been 
sufficiently impressed by Dr. Carling Malouf 's pre- 
liminary conclusions after his survey of the park 
during the summer of 1958 — when Malouf iden- 
tified over forty native occupation sites near ther- 
mal areas, at such locations as Sulphur Mountain, 
Gibbon Basin, Norris Basin, Thumb, the 
confluence of the Lewis and Snake Rivers, Mam- 
moth, along the Firehole River, and even behind 
the Inn at Old Faithful (Malouf 1 959:5-6) — to state 
for an in-house draft of his History of Yellowstone 
National Park that: 

There is no indication as to how the rest- 
lessness of the Late Prehistoric Period af- 
fected life on the Yellowstone Plateau. 
According to Dr. [Carling] Malouf, the 
evidence indicates that the people who 
occupied the northern part were culturally 
associated with sequences characteristic of 
Montana, while the occupancy of the 
southern part appears to have had its ori- 
gin in Western Wyoming and Southeast- 
ern Idaho. He points out that use was con- 
tinuous and relatively heavy, and that it 
included the thermal areas [Haines n.d.:87, 
emphasis his]. 

But a more ethnographic summary of evi- 
dence against the Hultkrantz thesis came in late 
1991 when the Yellowstone Association, with ad- 
ditional funding from the Wyoming Council for 
the Humanities, assigned a Montana State Univer- 
sity graduate student named Joseph Weixelman to 
conduct a short-term, fieldwork and library study 
on the relationships between "Native Americans 
and the Thermal Features of Yellowstone National 
Park." Under the direction of Yellowstone National 
Park historian Tom Tankersley, from October 1991 
to July 1992 Weixelman interviewed representa- 
tives from various tribes and researched the rel- 
evant historical literature on Yellowstone National 
Park. His carefully footnoted, 101 -page report con- 
cluded that: 

. . .the thermal wonders of the Park did not 
frighten the native peoples of the region. 
Euro-Americans originated this idea and 
it must be dispelled before we can under- 
stand the true nature of Yellowstone's hu- 
man past. Native peoples held varied be- 

liefs concerning Yellowstone and different 
tribes used its resources differently. Each 
tribe found something of value here. The 
religious beliefs of a tribe and their prox- 
imity to the park shaped individual re- 
sponses to the geysers. Many tribes ap- 
proached Yellowstone as a sacred land for 
prayer and meditation., Some tribes found 
the thermal waters useful for healing, bath- 
ing, cooking and other activities 
[Weixelman 1992:60]. 

Refuges for the Sheep Eaters 

In this final section we return to the subject 
of the fate of the Sheep Eaters, presumably the 
only full-time residents of Yellowstone National 
Park. We have waited until this chapter to add a 
sixth misperception about these mountain-dwell- 
ing Shoshone to the five we itemized already in 
Chapter 3. This sixth misrepresentation is one 
which remains alive and well today, the impres- 
sion that the Sheep Eaters died out from small- 
pox, were totally annihilated by aggressive Plains 
tribes, or lost their separate identity through inter- 
marriage with other Indians — in other words that 
they "vanished" or became "extinct." 

As early as 1870 the broader Yellowstone re- 
gion was witnessing a get-tough policy towards 
any and all surrounding Indians. When a fairly 
implausible rumor of possible Crow raids in the 
Gallatin and Yellowstone valleys reached James 
Stuart, for instance, he seized the opportunity to 
advocate no quarter, "I would like it better if it 
was a fight from the start; we would then kill ev- 
ery Crow that we saw, take the chances of their 
rubbing us out" (quoted in Haines 1974:63). At al- 
most the same time a fabricated story in the Hel- 
ena Daily Herald already referred to earlier, re- 
porting the slaughter of 18 Indians at the Falls of 
the Yellowstone, revealed the tenor of the times. 
According to Aubrey L. Haines, anti-Indian senti- 
ment was "common among the prospectors," who 
were swarming into the northern reaches of the 
park. In this false report the Sheep Eaters were 
singled out as target of both white rifles and in- 
flammatory rhetoric: 

We felt no great uneasiness however, 
knowing full well that with our improved 
firearms, we would be enabled to overcome 

Chapter 5. Sojourners from the South: Shoshone 227 

fifty of the sneaking red devils. It is proper 
to add, that the 'Sheep Eaters' are those of 
the Snake and Bannaek tribes, who would 
not live with their brethren in peaee with 
the whites. . ..A body of savages who would 
gladly welcome death in preference to 
capture... | quoted in Haines 1974:41; Hel- 
ena Daily Herald, May 18, 187()|. 

In 1871 J. A. Viall was appointed Superin- 
tendent for Indian Affairs in Montana for the Shos- 
hone, Bannock and Sheep Eaters. This mixed 
group of mountain Indians, banded together for 
survival, gained their subsistence by fishing in the 
Salmon River region during the spring and sum- 
mer before moving to the Yellowstone region to 
hunt buffalo in the fall and winter. Viall first tried 
to place these Indians with the Crow, an arrange- 
ment the Crow approved, and he sent A.J. 
Simmons to, 

Stinking Water Valley, Virginia City, 
Beaverhead, and other places, to gather 
together the scattered remnants of these 
tribes, who were prowling around the coun- 
try half starved, and in deplorable condi- 
tion, for the purpose of taking them to the 
Crow reservation [Viall 1971:831 1. 

Apparently a few families did join the Crow 
but the majority, especially the Bannock, were not 
welcome because during the fall and winter buf- 
falo hunt of 1 870 they apparently stole some Crow 
horses, and the deal fell apart (Pease 1871:836). 
So Viall had Simmons escort the assembled group 
to a valley about twenty miles above the mouth of 
the Lemhi Fork of the Salmon River. Although not 
identified as such by Viall in his annual report to 
the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the valley was 
probably within the two townships of land de- 
scribed in the 1868 unratified treaty as the loca- 
tion for a Shoshone, Bannock, and Sheep Eater 
reservation. The location was also important as an 
access route through the mountains via Lemhi Pass 
and very near the route taken by Lewis and Clark 
when they crossed the Continental Divide. Mr. 
Simmons entrusted the Indians to A. I. Smith who 
set to work building fencing and plowing about 
400 acres of land. Mr. Smith reported that the In- 
dians were willing workers and that in the year 
they had dug nearly two miles of irrigation ditches, 
erected three log dwellings and two root cellars 

(Smith 1871:848). The fruits of their labor were 
reported as 3,000 bushels of potatoes, 160 bush- 
els of wheat, and about the same of barley (Viail 
1 87 1 :832). In addition they had caught, dried and 
stored 30,000 pounds of fish. 

All in all the "Lemhi farm," as it was some- 
times identified, had a pretty successful beginning 
for its small group of about 600 mountain Indians. 
Things were not so good by 1 872, however, when 
the crops were severely damaged by grasshoppers 
and a new agent, J.C. Rainsford complained that 
obstructions on Columbia River were limiting the 
number of fish (Rainsford 1872:666). Crops were 
also destroyed by grasshoppers in 1875 (Fuller 
1875:813) and the location of the agency build- 
ings was moved a few miles in 1876 (Fuller 
1877:448). Nonetheless the Lemhi Valley agency, 
then known as the "Ross Fork farm," continued 
until 1880 when the mountain Indians were in- 
structed to move to Fort Hall. Ten Doy, the Shos- 
hone usually recognized by the United States as 
their leader, was infuriated by this command, de- 
claring that he would go to war before moving to 
Fort Hall (Wright 1879:160). 

In 1 907, one year after the noted anthropolo- 
gist Robert Lowie had been to visit them, most of 
the Shoshone, Bannock and Sheep Eaters did move 
from the Lemhi Agency to Fort Hall (Clemmer 
and Stewart 1986:53). 

Other Sheep Eaters remained in Yellowstone 
National Park and eventually joined Chief 
Washakie's Eastern Shoshones (Thompson and 
Thompson 1982:96). One has only fragmentary 
hints concerning who instigated this later Sheep 
Eater removal. Aubrey Haines, citing a letter from 
the Wind River Reservation agent of August 12, 
1929, writes that at least some of the Sheep Eaters 
who had become isolated in the Yellowstone re- 
gion entered the Wind River reservation about the 
year 1871, but we are given no details (Haines 
1996:29, 333). There is Washakie's strongly 
worded objection during a council meeting called 
by Agent James Patten in June 1879 to propose the 
transfer of Ten Doy's band of Western or Lemhi 
Shoshone to Wind River. "Washakie rose and with- 
out hesitation." recalled Patten, to express his ve- 
hement opposition to the plan (Patten to Commis- 
sioner of Indian Affairs E. A. Hayt, June 11, 1879). 
According to the old chief, the Ten Doy group "are 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

mixed up with the Bannocks and there are a good 
many bad Indians in his band," and all his sub- 
chiefs concurred with their leader. Possibly some 
of those he called "bad Indians" were also Sheep 
Eaters, but they would have hailed from the West- 
ern group. 

And yet from a letter by one D.G. Yeager, 
dated 1929, which Hultkrantz apparently perused 
in the Wind River Reservation files, one gathers 
that there was no such objection to the removal of 
the last Sheep Eaters from Yellowstone National 
Park to join Washakie's people at Wind River in 
1879, but again no details are provided concerning 
the group's size or specifics concerning the trans- 
fer (Hultkrantz 1957: 145). And one hears from an- 
thropologist Joel C. Janetski that as both a conse- 
quence of the "Sheepeater War" and the worries 
of park Superintendent Col. PW. Norris, that "the 
presence of Sheepeaters was perceived as a po- 
tential deterrent to tourist traffic," most of the Yel- 
lowstone Sheep Eaters were relocated at Wind 
River, Fort Hall, with a few quite likely transferred 
(presumably on or after 1879) to the Lemhi reser- 
vation on the Idaho-Montana line (Janetski 
1987:54), but once again specifics are woefully 

Following the Sheep Eater removals, Norris 
and subsequent superintendents remained con- 
cerned about maintaining an Indian-free environ- 
ment. As Norris wrote in his fifth annual report: 

The recent sale of the National Park and 
adjacent regions by these Indians insures 
future freedom from any save small horse- 
stealing bands of these tribes also. To pre- 
vent these forays, in council at their agency 
on Ross Fork of Snake River, in Idaho, and 
in Ruby Valley, in Montana, early in 1880 
I obtained a solemn pledge from them to 
not thereafter go east of Henry's Lake, in 
Montana, or north of Hart Lake, in Wyo- 
ming, to which, as stated on page 3 of my 
report of 1 880, they faithfully adhered. This 
pledge was renewed at Ross Fork when I 
was en route from Washington this year, 
and has again been sacredly observed 
[Norris 1881:45]. 

Although the hints of Sheep Eater dispersal 
present a different picture than that of mysterious 
extinction, we still need to know more precisely 
when, why and how the evacuation of Sheep Eat- 

ers from Yellowstone National Park took place. 
But what is almost as interesting as what actually 
happened to the Sheep Eaters, is what writers, 
bureaucrats and the general public wanted to think 
about what happened to them. The absence of hard 
facts about their fate provided ample opportunity 
for the image of the Sheep Eaters to become ab- 
sorbed into iconic representations and self-serv- 
ing stereotypes which were part of American con- 
sciousness concerning Indians during the late 19th 

Sheep Eaters as "Vanishing 
Indians" and "Last of Her Tribe" 

In the Euro-American imagination, the end 
of the old western frontier was often conveniently 
equated with the end of old Indian ways of life. In 
print and picture, the latter offered a poignant, sen- 
timental symbol for the former: sad paintings and 
moody photographs depicting various renditions 
of Indians as a "Vanishing Race" became com- 
monplace images, trickling down from fine art to 
mass-produced advertisements (see O'Brien 1996 
and Simmons n.d. for the New England origins of 
both the "Vanishing Indian" and "Last of the ..." 
motifs in local histories and popular culture). The 
theory of the "Vanishing Indian" fit the wishful 
thinking of government bureaucrats, social plan- 
ners and popular writers alike (Dippie 1973). It 
held that the demise of traditional Indian culture 
was a natural consequence of disease, depopula- 
tion, depression, an innate inability to evolve be- 
yond the level of savagery, and, as U.S. Senator 
James R. Dolittle put it in 1867, "the natural effect 
of one race replacing another" (quoted in Nabokov 

The romantic lament for bygone Indian days 
was an artistic accompaniment to this cultural and 
political prediction. But the "Vanishing Indian" 
theme was actually turned around so that early 
representations often portrayed the Indian as la- 
menting his own demise. This sentimental image 
in American popular culture can be heard in the 
"Rising Glory" genre of nationalistic poetry, such 
as the example written for the opening of the New 
York Theatre on September 1, 182 1 , where Charles 
Sprague rhapsodized about the growth of America, 

Chapter 5. Sojourners from the South: Shoshone 229 

during which 'The startled Indian o'er the moun- 
tain flew/ The wigwam vanish'd, and the village 
grew" (quoted in Lubbers 1994:214). Although the 
1820s were so replete with such sentiments that 
literary scholar Klaus Lubbers calls it the "last- 
of-the-Mohicans' decade," he documents how this 
icon of the "Indian's lament" over an irretrievable 
past had already been in the air for decades. Popu- 
lar nostalgia for the Redman as dying race was 
also reiterated in the visual arts (Berkhofer 
1978:537). Fine paintings, such as "The Last of 
the Race," an oil by Tompkins Harrison Matteson 
in 1847, showed dislocated Indian families look- 
ing disconsolately over the Pacific Ocean, having 
been rendered homeless at the very edge of the 
continent, or their demise was often pictorially 
equated with that of their mainstay, the doomed 
buffalo (As Joseph Dixon would lament in his The 
Vanishing Race: "The buffalo has gone from the 
continent, and now the Indian is following the de- 
serted buffalo trail" — Dixon 1925:5). 

A closely related icon, the "Last of his Tribe," 
often allowed for the localization and personal- 
ization of this "Vanishing Indian" stereotype. Po- 
ets revisited the birthplace of a famous local In- 
dian chief, or described an old graveyard or pond 
where the ghosts of departed Indians evoked their 
vanished past, as Isaac McLellan, Jr. wrote in "The 
Fall of the Indian": "Yet sometimes in the gay and 
noisy street/Of the great City, which usurps the 
place/Of the small Indian village, one shall see/ 
Some miserable relic of that race... "(quoted in 
Lubbers 1994:220). But it was novels which most 
powerfully engraved this image into American 
consciousness, especially, of course, James 
Fenimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans (1826), 
although N.M. Hentz' less well-written 
Tadeuskind, the Last King of the Lenapes had come 
out the previous year. Even into the 20th century, 
this theme continued to fascinate non-Indians, as 
the story of "Ishi, the Last of the Yahi Yana" cap- 
tivated readers from 1911 until the present day. That 
was when the nearly naked, sole Indian survivor 
of his band's virtual extermination turned up in a 
slaughterhouse corral in Oroville, California 
( Kroeber 1961). Across the nation these "Last of. .." 
Indians continued to function as protagonists of 
novels, or the stuff of local legends, as still today 

one hears about or sees evocative photographs 
depicting the "last" Indian full-blood, the "last" 
speaker of an Indian language, the "last" Indian 
medicine man. 

These images offered a psychological mecha- 
nism for outsiders to symbolically justify any 
physical removal or elimination of Indians that had 
occurred or which appeared imminent. With such 
sentimental requiems for the "passing of the 
Redman," by offering praiseworthy laments for 
their nobility, nostalgia for their heyday as Noble 
Savages and poignance at their extinction, non- 
Indians at the same time paved the way for their 
elimination and freed themselves of any guilt for 
it. One can readily grasp how neatly the poorly 
documented and uncertain finale to the Sheep 
Eater story could be manipulated into these pre- 
conceived themes and images. 

Writing of his guide and key informant, 
Wesaw, Yellowstone National Park's second su- 
perintendent, P. W. Norris, was one of the first 
writers to hint at the fact how the Sheep Eater situ- 
ation might fit with into the "vanishing Indian" 
theory of his day. He wrote in his first report: 

Owing to the isolation of the Park, deep 
amid snow mountains, and the supersti- 
tious awe of the roaring cataracts, sulphur 
pools, and spouting geysers over the sur- 
rounding pagan Indians, they seldom visit 
it, and only a few harmless Sheep-eater 
hermits, armed with bows and arrows, ever 
resided there, and even they now vanished 
[Norris 1877:842]. 

And in his official report three years later 
Norris added a reason for their absence, in a com- 
ment that his Indian guide, 

had made several trips before the one with 
Captain Jones, one of which was. as I un- 
derstood him, to assist some friends who 
had intermarried with the Sheepeaters to 
leave the Park after the great small-pox 
visitation some twenty years ago [Norris 

Following the Norris commentaries, expla- 
nations for the scarcity of Sheep Eaters due to 
smallpox would become widespread over subse- 
quent years. One principal proponent of the "small- 
pox extinction" theory was W. A. "Doc" Allen 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

whose book for general readers, The Sheep Eat- 
ers, was published in New York in 1913 by the 
Shakespeare Press. Unfortunately the work appears 
to be something of a fraud, as it is filled with inac- 
curacies that seem to be the product of Allen's 
imagination. Yet the book was the source of nu- 
merous other uninformed publications that duti- 
fully reproduced its misinformation. Even today, 
nearly every summer some Montana newspaper 
carries a story about the "extinct Sheep Eaters" 
and their demise from small pox. As Allen quoted 
an old Indian woman about their final days: 

. . .white man got lost and his ponies come 
into our camp. White man very sick. Medi- 
cine man put him in big tepee and take care 
of him, give much bath in hot water. Man 
got very red like Indian man, face much 
all over spots. By and by he die. Then sick- 
ness all over camp. Sheep Eater run off in 
forest and die. Sheep Eater all much scared 
and run away. Many tepee standing alone, 
all dead inside [Allen 1913:74]. 

Allen's text then explains that a handful of 
survivors descended into the valleys to be given 
refuge by other tribes. As noted above, this quote 
has been repeated so often that it has fused into an 
explanation for the virtual disappearance of all 
Sheep Eaters. Other authors merely stated that they 
were extinct, without providing any further expla- 
nation. As "Bill" Daniels wrote in 1953, "There 
are no known survivors today, but small bands of 
the Sheep-Eaters were common as late as 1880" 
(Daniels 1953:25). Historian Grace R. Hebard gave 
inter-tribal warfare as an explanation for their dis- 

They were a timid and fugitive people, who 
lived in the most inaccessible part of the 
Absaroka, Ten Sleep and Teton mountains, 
and who, in their rare contacts with whites, 
showed themselves generally friendly. Ul- 
timately the Sioux penetrated to their re- 
cesses and virtually exterminated them. Of 
their history we know little, for though they 
left on the mountain walls many engrav- 
ings and bright-colored paintings that may 
tell their story, the characters have never 
been interpreted [Hebard 1995:118]. 

Some authors have added more purple prose, 
such as magazine journalist Keith Barrette who 

offers the sort of eulogy to which other suppos- 
edly "vanishing" Indians like Mandans of North 
Dakota or the Yahis of California have been subject: 

Civilization proved too much for the 
Tukudeka. . .The plague was thorough — so 
thorough that the only memorials remain- 
ing are the empty campsites, the conical 
skeletons of abandoned lodges, the empty 
and silent sheep traps. Not even the saga 
of a battle has come down to us. The names 
of their great chiefs, or elders, if they had 
any, are unknown. The Tukudeka stand in 
the vague mists of western history, ghostly, 
almost formless shapes. Only the mountains 
are their remaining glory [Barrette 1963:58]. 

This dewy-eyed mixed-message, which 
writes an epitaph to Sheep Eater society so as not 
to be forced to deal with the complexity of their 
inter-mixed history, continues to be recycled to- 
day. For example, under the headline, "Sheepeaters 
were doomed by smallpox," in the July 9, 1979, 
issue of the Billings Gazette, journalist John Bonar 

Beware of the white man's smallpox. The 
terrified cry echoed through what is now 
Yellowstone National Park. It was the early 
1 800's. This warning came from a shy tribe 
of small Indians known as the Sheepeaters 
[Bonar 1979:6]. 

The "smallpox extinction" idea promulgated 
by W. A. Allen is also perpetuated in a videography 
entitled "The Sheepeaters: Keepers of the Past" 
(Smith 1990), which is sold in Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park. A softer variant on the theme, in which 
most Sheep Eaters reportedly succumbed to Eu- 
ropean diseases once they were moved onto reser- 
vations, is also found in a recent Montana 
newspaper's feature story on these Indians 
(Bellinghausen 1995). The story's final scene has 
Sheep Eaters losing all separate identity as they 
are absorbed into the general population — despite 
the fact that the Idaho census continued to list them 
separately for years after they moved onto the res- 
ervation, and that when Hultkrantz and others con- 
ducted fieldwork among the Shoshones, everyone 
on the reservation knew which tribal members 
claimed Sheep Eater ancestry. The evidence is 
persuasive that allegations that the Sheep Eaters 
disappeared from European diseases to which they 

Chapter 5. Sojourners from the South: Shoshone 231 

were exposed after they moved out of the moun- 
tains, or lost identity after they intermarried with 
other Indians, lack credibility. But historical ac- 
curacy was ignored when the need arose for a 
popular cliche to wind up a book or news story. 

When the book by W.A. Allen, The Sheep 
Eaters, was reprinted in 1989, however, it con- 
tained no updating or critical commentary. In the 
book's front matter was only a brief note inform- 
ing the reader that the book concerns Wyoming 
Sheep Eaters, and refers anyone interested in the 
Sheep Eaters of Idaho to the University of Idaho 
archivist. But the new edition did include — with- 
out the author's permission — a reprint of "The 
Sheepeaters," an article written by David 
Dominick and originally published in Annals of 
Wyoming, October 1964. Reliable and well re- 
searched even if it lacked more updated informa- 
tion, it is still cited as a valuable source for Sheep 
Eaters aficionados. It should be noted that Ake 
Hultkrantz discredited the Allen book (Hultkrantz 
1970b). But perhaps because Hultkrantz referred 
to these Indians by their Shoshone name, the 
Tukadika, instead of as Sheep Eaters, his critique 
has been ignored. 

In addition to entering the Sheep Eater story 
under the "Vanishing Indian" genre, Allen also 
added his own version of "The Last of his Tribe" 
stereotype. For he claimed that the Indian-spoken 
account of the tragic end of the Sheep Eaters — the 
quote reproduced above — came from a woman 
named "Woman Under the Ground" who was the 
last living Sheep Eater Indian, and he even pro- 
vided a frontispiece photograph of the individual, 
taken by the O.S. Goff. Allen claimed to have 
met this woman through the Crow Chief Pretty 
Eagle. Known locally as "Doc Allen," William 
Alonzo Allen practiced dentistry in Billings, Mon- 
tana at the turn of the century, but by trade he was 
a blacksmith (Wagner and Allen 1936:150). Born 
in 1848, he appeared in Montana Territory about 
1876. Shortly after his arrival, he claims to have 
heard of a Sheep Eater woman still living in the 
mountains and maintained that he finally stumbled 
upon her by chance while hunting in the Bighorn 
Canyon in 1877, while she was living among the 
Crow. It was through sign language that she re- 
portedly communicated the sad tale of her tribe, 
"the ancient Sheep Eaters." 

During photographic research for this over- 
view we probed the origin of the uncredited pho- 
tograph of "The Woman Under the Ground" which 
appeared as the frontispiece to Allen's book on the 
Sheep Eaters. In the Montana Historical Society 
we found a duplicate of the same image, but ac- 
cording to handwriting by O.S. Goff himself on 
the back of the historical print it was identified as 
the picture of an "Old Crow Squaw." Goff had 
taken the image in Fort Custer, Montana, where 
he served as the post photographer. Were we to 
assume that Goff was actually wrong, and she was 
indeed a Sheep Eater, there would then be a prob- 
lem with her age. For Allen informs us that Woman 
Under the Ground was 115 years of age in 1877 and 
thus would have been 126 in 1888 when Goff made 
his picture, which seems highly unlikely. More 
probable is that Allen found a photograph of an 
old Indian woman to match his "invented Sheep 
Eater" and used it to enhance his credibility. Since 
Goff retired from the photography business in 
1900, moving to Idaho until his death in 1917 
(Watson 1962), perhaps Allen felt the photogra- 
pher would never dispute his claim that she was 
the last living representative of her people. 

So smitten was Superintendent Norris, too, 
by the sentimental image of the presumed demise 
of these mountain dwellers that he weighed in with 
his own poetic treatment on the theme. In his as- 
sortment of odd writings that swing between allu- 
sions to the "bloody raids" by Yellowstone's "su- 
perstitious" Indians and condemnations of white 
greed for Indian lands, one finds these verses un- 
der the title The Mystic Lake of Wonderland, which 
also betray a sense of guilt about Sheep Eater treat- 
ment at the hands of their evictors: 

And here by lonely rill I find - 

Sad trace of race to pale-face kind. 

But feeble, few. and shy of men - 

A wick-e-up of brush in glen. 

And (blanket-robed for want of grave). 

Last of his band. "Sheep-Eater" brave. 

And now I pause and sadly think 
Of cruel scenes ne'er traced in ink; 
Of kindly words and acts of those 
We curse and treat as savage iocs. 
Yet practice crimes that dark disgrace 
Our Christian creed and bearded race 
[Norris 1884:47]. 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

Survival of the Sheep Eaters 

Such misrepresentations to the contrary, the 
Sheep Eaters did not vanish or become extinct. 
Among the most obvious refutations to premature 
declarations of their demise was the continued 
presence in southern Wyoming of a famous Sheep 
Eater guide and renowned medicine man named 
Togwotee. Prominent among the Sheep Eater con- 
tingent which was granted refuge on the Wind 
River Reservation around 1872 by Chief Washakie, 
throughout the early record of the Wind River 
Reservation the man's name periodically crops up. 
And yet in the following summary of our docu- 
mentation on this somewhat mysterious character 
we also have an illustration of the contrast we of- 
ten discover between outside, or public knowledge 
regarding an Indian figure which has been gleaned 
from written documents, and the more inside, pri- 
vate or even "esoteric" information which provides 
an Indian perspective that has been compiled 
largely from oral sources. 

Insofar as the written record is concerned, 
we know that Togwotee was among the Sheep 
Eater minority of Shoshonean guides who led 
William A. Jones of the Corps of Engineers into 
northwestern Wyoming in the summer of 1873. 
With Togwotee personally leading the way, the 
Jones party navigated the mountain pass between 
the head of Wind River and a small tributary of 
the Snake River. During the journey one of the 
group's members, a geology professor named 
Theodore B. Comstock, got the impression that 
when his "mountain Shoshone" or Sheep Eater 
status caused other Indians to look down upon him 
or make derogatory remarks, the man known as 
Togwotee merely looked "annoyed" and generally 
paid them little mind, for "he was then of much 
importance on account of his superior knowledge 
of the country through which he was guiding us" 
(Jones 1875:275). 

Clearly this Sheep Eater guide also made a 
favorable impression on the expedition's leader, 
for Jones made sure the man's name would live 
on. After being led across the pass known to Shos- 
hone Indians as simply pia wia:wi or "Big Gap," 
Jones renamed it "Towgwotee Pass," in line with 
his preference for attaching easy Indian names, 
wherever possible, to the prominent features of the 

country (Jones 1875:55). Another story for this 
place-name harkens back to the literal meaning of 
Togwotee's Indian name — togoti is said to trans- 
late as "Shoots with a Spear," referring to his keen 
marksmanship. When he guided the Jones expe- 
dition through the "Big Gap," it was said to be as 
though he was sighting the white men towards a 
"bull's eye" with the same skill that made him al- 
ways strike the center of his target (Sharon Kahin, 
from Charlie Beck, personal communication, July 
15, 1996). This information ties the name to the 
arrow-throwing contest, a form of Indian competi- 
tive sport which is still practiced within Crow In- 
dian reservation districts of south-central Montana 
each spring. To play the game, the Sheep Eaters 
first hurled a target arrow, which usually landed 
anywhere from fifty to seventy-five yards away. 
Then each contestant threw three, javelin-sized 
arrows tipped with heavy, unbarbed heads, aim- 
ing as close to the target as possible. According to 
one account, Togwotee was exceptionally adept 
at the game, and during a particular meet all his 
throws were said to actually touch the target arrow 
(Esther Mackler manuscript, p. 15, Dubois Mu- 
seum, courtesy of Sharon Kahin, Museum Direc- 

Despite their assistance to Jones, in 1878 
Togwotee and his followers were accused of par- 
ticipating in the Bannock War in Jackson Hole, 
and were rounded up by U.S. authorities. Since 
they were discovered in a large camp at the "Big 
Gap" pass, not far from the scene of those hostili- 
ties, it was assumed they had joined the Bannock 
rebels. In fact, they were only hunting elk. But a 
decade later Togwotee was characterized by an 
Episcopalian minister as a "veteran mountaineer," 
"reliable guide," "sub-chief and "old scout of the 
Indian wars, trustworthy and intelligent," and cited 
by name as among the "Mountain-Sheep-Eating 
Shoshones" who helped to guide President Chester 
Arthur on his horse ride from Washakie Springs 
to the Yellowstone National Park along Indian 
Paths and wild game trails "through the primeval 
Forests and mountain passes" (Reverend John 
Roberts manuscript, quoted in Hultkrantz n.d., 
p. 87. ms. in possession of Roberts family). Not 
long afterwards, Togwotee was assigned the job 
of chief of the Indian police at the Shoshone 

Chapter 5. Sojourners from the South: Shoshone 233 

Figure 5. 10 Wind River Reservation consultants of scholar Ake Hultkrantz who were either Sheep Eaters or in- 
laws to Sheep fullers: (upper left) DT, Sheep Eater, 1948; (upper right) JG, part Sheep Eater, 1955; (lower left) 
TD, married to Sheep Eater woman; (lower right) CS, Sheep Eater, 1948 (Photographs courtesy of Ake 

That fairly exhausts the written record for 
Togwotee. When it comes to what we learn from 
oral traditions, however, the emphasis is often less 
on physical prowess or scouting skills and more 
on metaphysical knowledge or the inner, super- 
natural dimensions of his personality. From the 
interviews of Ake Hultkrantz with Wind River 

Reservation consultants, for instance, we learn that 
among his own people Togwotee had a darker 
reputation as "hoth a medicine-man and witch 
doctor" than as a "chief." We may remember from 
Chapter 3 that only an especially strong and brave 
Sheep Eater might seek puha. or medicine power, 
from among the category of dangerous water spir- 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

its. And Togwotee was especially noted for his 
association with the most fearsome of these su- 
pernatural beings, the pandzoavits, or "water 

As for his physical appearance, Hultkrantz' 
Shoshone friends described Togwotee as "tall, slim 
and crook-nosed." Hultkrantz also learned that the 
man was known by two other names: pa.yorowo, 
or "making mark in the water," and suga b 
ganigent, meaning "home in the middle of the 
bush." When she was working among the Wind 
River Shosohone from 1977 to 1988, ethnographer 
Judith Vander heard that Togwotee might even 
have been instrumental in the subtle transforma- 
tion of the older Shoshonean Round Dance into 
the tribe's expression of the Ghost Dance, which 
became known as the Naraya, as described in 
Chapter 3. At the core of the early version of Shos- 
hone Ghost Dance doctrine was the theme of the 
resurrection of the dead. And as described by one 
of Vander's elder Wind River consultants who was 
well into his eighties, Togwotee devised his own 
sort of Jack O' Lantern to trick his people into par- 
ticipating in this new dance: 

One ole man, he was going to make them 
believe that there is something to that. So I 
guess he — that was old Togwotee — he's 
the one. They said they was having a Round 
Dances and he was kind of with them ones 
that's have that, in that belief. I guess one 
time he went and got old rotten wood. He 
took all that rotten stuff — the top was 
alright — rotten stuff out, that loose stuff, 
he push it out. He must of made it just part 
of it. And he made a hole and he cut eyes 
in it, where the nose is and the mouth. He 
must of made some kind of a thing in it so 
it would hold up that light, I guess, in 
there — candle. He put that in brush some- 
where where he lived. I believe close there 
they have that Naraya — where they see it 
themselves. I guess there was a Naraya. 
And they saw that. Light down in the eyes, 
somebody down that. And then he told 
them, "You people dance hard." he said, 
"The dead is coming back. That's the leader 
over there." 

Judith Vander: "He fooled them." 

Consultant: "Old Togwotee' 


Along with his endorsement of the Shoshone 
Ghost Dance, Togwotee also possessed special 
powers which he employed during the Sun Dance. 
According to what Hultkrantz learned, it was ac- 
tually Togwotee's use of his destructive rather than 
curative powers which embroiled him in the sort 
of "shamanic duel" which has been reported from 
other parts of native America as well. The follow- 
ing account, from Hultkrantz' unpublished manu- 
script on the Sheep Eaters, also accounts for 
Togwotee's eventual death: 

He used to carry a doll that was clad in 
buckskin and tied to his necklace. He used 
his power to injure people, for example, 
by depriving them of [their] navuzieip 
["free soul"]. His guardian spirit was 
pandzoavits ["water ghost']. He was also 
feared in the Sun Dance. If he [someone] 
danced forward [he became afraid], for 
then Togwotee might take his navuzieip. 
Especially was he feared when he stood at 
the center pole and whistled eagerly. His 
doll represented pandzoavits. Many good 
men and women were killed with this 
medicine. There was only one way of over- 
coming Togwotee and thus curing his vic- 
tim: to call for a medicine-man who had 
still stronger medicine. 

Now Togwotee was living in the vicinity 
of [the present town of] Dubois. After many 
appeals from people a Ute [yu;ta] medi- 
cine man promised to out maneuver 
Togwotee. The Ute arrived at Fort 
Washakie, rolled up his sleeve and suck his 
arm, with his gaze steadily fixed in the di- 
rection of Dubois [about fifty miles to the 
northwest]. In this way [he] deprived 
Togwotee of his medicine. The Ute sucked 
the medicine into his body, both the neck- 
lace and the doll. 

He then vomited up the two objects and 
held them out in his hands, so that all those 
standing round about could see them. At 
his request he was now handed by my 
grandfather an old muzzle-loader used in 
buffalo hunting. With a knife he cut the doll 
into little pieces, loaded the gun with pow- 
der, stuffed the doll into the barrel of the 
gun, and fired. People could then hear the 
shriek of a child. 

Chapter 5. Sojourners from the South: Shoshone 235 

The Ute said, however, that this was 
Togwotee's own voice, and he also said that 
Togwotee's /w/itf was now destroyed, and 
that Togwotee himself would now fall ill 
little by little, turn blue and waste away. 
This actually happened. The name of the 
Ute Indian was Little Doctor, and he was 
known as a very clever medicine-man 
[Hultkrantz n.d. 11:88-89; also in Hult- 
krantz 1951:36-371. 

Togwotee may have been the best-known of 
the Sheep Eaters who survived on the Wind River 
Reservation. But there were other Sheep Eater 
families who sustained themselves in quiet obscu- 
rity for generations. At least one federal employee 
reported rumors of Sheep Eater persistence; 
former Washakie National Forest Ranger, A.G. 
Clayton, wrote in 1926: 

Several theories are advanced as to the fi- 
nal disappearance of the sheepeater. One 
is that diseases of various sorts entered their 
ranks; another that tribal Indians destroyed 
them, but it appears that the most likely 
one is the coming of the white man who, 
in subduing their enemies the lowland In- 
dians, made it possible for them to return 
to their former homes and take up the life 
of the normal Indian. It is said by some 
that a few are still living on the Wind River 
Indian Reservation. In any event these 
people can justly be considered as the first 
users of the Washakie National Forest 
[Clayton 1926:278]. 

Completing research on the Wind River Res- 
ervation twenty-eight years later, Hultkrantz in- 
terviewed a half-dozen self-identified Sheep Eat- 
ers, including the old woman profiled in Chapter 
3, who was said to have been born in the moun- 
tains. Although today their numbers are not large, 
descendants of these individuals continue to live 
and work on both the Wind River and Fort Hall 
reservations. As a reminder of this fact, this over- 
view closes with a telling moment that occurred 
during our third and final field season. 

On June 25, 1996, during the last of our three 
summer field seasons, with the help of the Branch 
of Cultural Resources, we sponsored at the park 
headquarters in Mammoth a round-table discus- 
sion between Yellowstone National Park officials 
and twenty members of the Fort Hall Shoshone 
and Bannock and the Wind River Shoshone In- 
dian communities. At the outset of our morning 
session, each of the Indian visitors were asked to 
introduce themselves, giving name and some iden- 
tification. When this well-intentioned request was 
made we were in innocent ignorance of a deep- 
seated reluctance by these particular tribespeople 
to expose this sort of personal information. "The 
Wind River Shoshone do not like to tell their 
names," wrote Demitri Shimkin, the anthropolo- 
gist who had interviewed the parents of some of 
those very same Wind River individuals who were 
now struggling with the assistant superintendent's 
invitation, "a man rarely does so — more readily if 
alone than in the presence of other tribesmen — a 
woman never" (Shimkin 1947a:303). And while 
working among the Lemhi Shoshone to the west, 
then residing on the Fort Hall reservation, anthro- 
pologist Robert Lowie also learned that "The 
Lemhi people still show great reluctance in divulg- 
ing their native names; a middle-aged man who 
had lived with the whites for many years obsti- 
nately denied having a Shoshone name, though it 
was subsequently discovered by chance" (Lowie 

Realizing that we were uninformed about 
their forms of etiquette, however, and wanting to 
avoid starting off on the wrong foot, the Indian 
visitors graciously complied with the official's 
request. But when they did introduce themselves, 
it was remarkable that a number of them not only 
stated that they hailed from this or that Shoshone 
or Bannock community. About a half-dozen of the 
visitors also volunteered that they were of mixed 
descent — "...and Sheep Eater," both men and 
women added emphatically. It was as if this eth- 
nic identification, which for so long had occupied 
the most denigrated Indian status in the Anglo- 
American literature on Shoshone peoples, was now 
holding its head high and claiming its rightful place 
as an indigenous presence within the Yellowstone 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

In this ethnographic overview we have in- 
vestigated numerous features of the different rela- 
tionships between a range of Native American 
groups and the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. 
This has been no easy task, and not only because 
of the deep-seated misconceptions about those in- 
teractions which we have attempted to address. It 
has also been difficult because about 130 years 
ago many of those traditional relationships began 
to be undermined by the federal government. Co- 
incident with the sequestering of Plains and Pla- 
teau Indians on reservations in the late 19th cen- 
tury was the forced cessation of native hunting and 
foraging, open travel, and religious or other cul- 
tural endeavors in and around Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park. It is ironic that in the same era that 
wildlife were being protected against extermina- 
tion from hunters through the creation of National 
Parks, in the government's view Indians were be- 
ing "protected" against their extinction from In- 
dian-white warfare by means of the official assimi- 
lation policy and the creation of Indian reserva- 
tions to which they were forcibly relocated. This 
break between Indians and their traditional envi- 
ronments led to a diminished body of oral tradi- 
tions conveying mythical or historical information, 
place-names and other geographic knowledge as 
well as personal memories regarding the greater 
Yellowstone region. 

Yet we have tried to assemble and sequence 
into meaningful mosaic-like narratives enough bits 
and pieces of data from archaeological, ethno- 
graphic and ethnohistorical sources to bring the 
misconceptions into serious question. Specifically, 
we hope to have persuasively suggested that (a) 
the Yellowstone Plateau was not a terra incognita 

prior to the coming of Euro- Americans into its con- 
fines; (b) that the "Eaters of the Bighorn Sheep" 
were somewhat more than the timid, stunted out- 
casts hiding out in their mountain haunts as much 
of the literature conveys; (c) that Plains and Pla- 
teau Indian peoples did know the Yellowstone eco- 
system with varying degrees of intimacy and were 
not deterred from exploring and exploiting its di- 
verse habitats because of the geyser activity — 
which was regarded every bit as awesome by Euro- 
Americans as it was by Indians; and finally, (d) 
that most of these same native groups today retain 
an interest in their histories related to the park as 
well as in reconstructing some sorts of special, "tra- 
ditional" relationships with its resources. 

It has not been our job to assess or suggest, 
in any manner, just which of these native peoples 
might have stronger or weaker historical or cul- 
tural ties or claims to the park and its immediate 
environs. The state of our knowledge still remains 
too thin or fragmentary to hint at such differential 
relationships, and each of these groups also had 
qualitatively contrasting relationships to the Yel- 
lowstone Plateau which make the question akin to 
comparing the proverbial apples and oranges. In 
addition, much research clearly remains to be done 
on the subjects addressed in this study: govern- 
ment records, regional newspapers, and other data 
still need to be plumbed, detailed field notes of 
earlier ethnographers are still worth exhuming 
from often distant archives, the archaeological pic- 
ture of the park deserves a major effort, and, sur- 
prisingly enough, our own experiences during the 
work on this document have demonstrated that the 
possibility of narratives still being held within 
tribal memory needs to be left open. As with the 

Summary 237 

case of the excellent Miwok Indian museum and 
library-archives within California's Yosemite Na- 
tional Park, with the more open and inviting policy 
towards Indian history and cultural interests which 
the park has been initiating over the last few years 
hopefully native peoples will be inspired to come 
forward and contribute to a comparable archive at 
Yellowstone. Indeed, our experiences with Ameri- 
can Indian consultants in the park demonstrated 
that they were exceedingly interested in the Mam- 
moth collections, photographic and otherwise. 

To continue to document this wider cultural 
contribution to the evolution of Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park by American Indians, however, and for 
the diverse Indian cultural story to become belat- 
edly integrated into the park's self-presentations 
and interpretations, will take not only an appre- 
ciation of the sort of data which we have begun to 
unearth. It will also necessitate a profound reas- 
sessment of the field of symbols, associations and 
ideas which has developed around Yellowstone 
National Park. This task means that this unique 
park whose origins and legacy have been largely 
associated with the non-human aspects of the natu- 
ral environment as seen through the eyes of one 
particular culture, will now have to explore the 
cultural and historical aspects of its environment 
as seen through Native American eyes as well. 
This, too, will be no easy task, since the special 
personalities of institutions such as our national 
parks are born in their beginnings and harden over 
years, and Yellowstone is, of course, the father of 
them all. 

To shift ever so slightly the perspective from 
Yellowstone's traditional focus on wildlife and 
natural wonders is not unlike contemplating the 
expansion of associations tied to America's battle- 
field "Sacred Ground" parks so as to reach beyond 
their entrenched, fundamental themes of "martial 
sacrifice and national regeneration" (quoted from 
back jacket copy of Edward Linenthal's Sacred 
Ground: Americans and their Battlefields, 1993). 
Transforming an institution's personality is diffi- 
cult to do. Expanding the self-definition of Yel- 
lowstone, and truly factoring Indians into its equa- 
tion, also means shifting away from the underly- 
ing patriotic symbolism of such sites with their 
earlier nationalistic agendas. For in the wake of 
the divisive Civil War, one of the underlying rea- 

sons for creating such parks was that they produced 
sacred landscapes which all American pilgrims 
could visit in order to see their shared God mani- 
fest his powers and heal their wounded nation (for 
such use of parks like Niagara Falls, Yosemite and 
Yellowstone as centers of nationalistic tourism, see 
Sears 1989). 

But as soon as Yellowstone National Park 
scholars and the Albright Visitor Center exhibits 
began to create and promote their own stories of 
why and how Yellowstone became a park in the 
first place, the park itself opened the door to such 
a redefinition by adding themes of human culture 
history to the earlier emphases upon natural his- 
tory, wildlife preservation, and scenic grandeur. 
And once it fleshed out the human personalities, 
administrative as well as artistic, who advocated 
for, painted pictures of, and fashioned the park's 
mandate and image, and put them into historical 
context, it thereupon left the safe realm of leave- 
it-alone wilderness and entered the realm of pub- 
lic relations and self-conscious discourse. While 
it seems a small step from this self-reflective, of- 
ten self-congratulatory focus to bringing the com- 
plex stories of Indians more fully into the panorama 
of the park's culture history, the fact is that, as the 
debate over establishment of the Pajarito or Cliff 
Dwellers' National Park demonstrated years ago, 
national parks designed around the allure of Ameri- 
can Indian culture, prehistoric and historic, have 
had a hard time appealing to legislators and tour- 
ists in the past (Altherr 1985). But the failure of 
the Pajarito effort occurred in another era (1900- 
1920), when Indians history was not of as general 
interest as they are now. We would hope today, 
with Americans seeking "a dramatic new park 
ethic" (Los Angeles Times, August 3. 1997, p. M4), 
that Yellowstone would become a pioneer in view- 
ing its custodianship of a well-aged, multi-stranded 
American Indian past as an educational and pro- 
motional asset. 

We would also hope that just as everyone is 
now aware that notions of parks as pristine "wil- 
derness" are antiquated, and that human beings 
have been shaping their environmental surround- 
ings for thousands of years, that the pre-contact. 
historic, and contemporary relations between In- 
dians and the region not be hampered by exter- 
nally imposed criteria for what are "pristine" and 

238 American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

"traditional" Indian data and what are not. The on- 
going Native American history in the entire Yel- 
lowstone region runs deep and wide and deserves 
to find its place in the park's autobiography. 

The moral and intellectual imperatives to 
initiate such a redefinition of Yellowstone's pre- 
sentation of itself, comprehensively embracing and 
representing the Indian culture-histories and not 
just window-dressing them, seems different for this 
park. It certainly contrasts with parks in other cul- 
tural and ecological settings, where the protective 
nets of national preserves or game refuges have 
been thrown over resident, indigenous peoples who 
still subsist in traditional ways and were never re- 
moved from the area (for a useful, comparative 
range of international case studies about this con- 
vergence of natural preservation, cultural preser- 
vation, and rural development, see West and 
Brechin 1991). In such situations, as with the 
Havasupai in Grand Canyon, the living native 
peoples are generally considered an essential part 
of the area's cultural resources (Hough 1991:228). 
Yet even here the struggle to create dialogue be- 
tween Indians and park officials has been no less 
difficult for Grand Canyon than it has for Yellow- 
stone; as John Hough has written, "Historically, 
the relationship between the National Park Ser- 
vice and the Havasupai has been one of distrust 
and enmity. This has improved considerably in 
recent years. . .However, there is still a certain level 
of distrust and, consequently, misperception of the 
other's intent" (Hough 1991:229). 

To relieve such misperceptions and to con- 
tribute to improved working relationships between 
Indians and Yellowstone National Park officials, 
as well as to augment the story and significance of 
Yellowstone National Park by incorporating the 
intimate and ancient associations between Indians 
and the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, we offer 
this document. Our summaries have been based 

on information gleaned during the three summer 
field seasons of our study, and on our gradual ap- 
preciation of the native experiences and attitudes 
that even extend beyond those data. It reflects eth- 
nographic and ethnohistorical work on relation- 
ships between American Indian peoples and Yel- 
lowstone National Park which, like all such com- 
missions, has been of necessity restricted by time 
and funding. This document must be regarded as 
an interim report covering our best research ef- 
forts conducted between 1994 and 1998. But as so 
often happens with a topic of this magnitude and 
complexity, its vast subject has not been defini- 
tively covered through the time-bound scope of 
our work. 

This compilation of available information 
describing certain Indian peoples as having par- 
ticular associations with the park must not preclude 
the emergence of new ethnographic or archival in- 
formation which might identify other Indian na- 
tions with such claims or which might corrobo- 
rate or refute our proposed reconstruction of tribal 
activities in the region. Any historical summary 
such as this is a provisional contribution, a work- 
in-progress. Given these important provisos about 
the contingent nature of such cultural research and 
reconstruction, it remains our conviction, how- 
ever, that a narrative summary rather than a "check- 
list of sites" has been the most constructive way 
to present our data. Only then could we call atten- 
tion to the human nature of the "data beneath the 
data," the motivational structures and cultural and 
historical contexts and circumstances by which any 
of it makes sense. Only then could we invite read- 
ers and park visitors into the processes by which 
history itself is constantly enriched, revised, in- 
terpreted and transformed into fuller-bodied un- 
derstandings of our often separate pasts and how 
they influence our shared present. 

Summary 239 


Federal Documents and Reports 

American State Papers VI, Indian Affairs II: Indians 
South of the Yellowstone, 1 824: Cheyennes, 
Arapahoes, Kiowa, Crows. Gales and Seaton, 
Washington, D.C. 

Arno, S. F. 1976. The Historical Role of Fire on the 
Bitterroot National Forest. Forest Service Res. 
Paper INT- 187. Intermountain Forest and 
Range Exp. Station, Ogden, Utah. 

Bearss, E. C. 1970. Bighorn Canyon National 

Recreation Area, Wyoming-Montana, History 
Basic Data Study, vol. 1 . Submitted to the 
National Park Service, Office of History and 
Historic Architecture, Eastern Service Center, 
Washington, D.C. 

Cannon, K. P. 1992. A Review of Archaeological and 
Paleontological Evidence for the Prehistoric 
Presence of Wolf and Related Prey Species in 
the Northern and Central Rockies Physi- 
ographic Provinces. In Wolves for Yellowstone. 
A Report to the United States Congress, Vol. 
IV, Research and Analysis, edited by J. D. 
Varley and W. G. Brewster. Yellowstone 
National Park, Wyoming. 

Cannon, K. P., and P. Phillips. 1993. Post-fire 
Inventory and Evaluation in Yellowstone 
National Park, Wyoming: The 1989 Field 
Season. Midwest Archeological Center 
Technical Report No. 24. Submitted to the 
National Park Service, Rocky Mountain 
Regional Office, Denver. 

Chittenden, H. M. 1902. Construction, Repair, and 
Maintenance of Roads and Bridges in the 
Yellowstone National Park. Annual Report of 
the Chief of Engineers for 1902. Government 
Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 

Cummings, L. S. 1993. Appendix C: Pollen and 
Macrobotancial Analysis at 24YE353 and 
24YE366 along the Yellowstone River, 
Montana. In Post-Fire Inventory and Evalua- 
tion in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. 
The 1989 Field Season, K. Cannon and P. 
Phillips, pp 229-237. Midwest Archeological 
Center Technical Report No. 24. Produced for 
the Rocky Mountain Region, National Park 

Danilson, W. H. 1875. Report of the Fort Hall 

Agency, Idaho, September 7, 1875. In Papers 
Accompanying the Annual Report of the 
Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Accompany- 
ing the Annual Report for the Secretary of the 
Interior for the Year 1875, pp. 258-260. 
Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 

. 1876. Report of the Fort Hall Agency, Idaho, 

1 876. In Papers Accompanying the Annual 
Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs 
1876. Executive Documents, (House) 44th 
Congress 2nd Session. Washington, D.C. 

. 1 878. Report of the Fort Hall Agency, Idaho, 

August 15. 1877. In Papers Accompanying the 
Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian 
Affairs 1877. Executive Documents, (House), 
45th Congress 2nd session, Doc. No 1, pp. 
A1A-A15. [Serial No. 1800]. Washington, D.C. 

. 1 879. Report of the Fort Hall Agency, Idaho, 

August 28, 1878. In Papers Accompanying the 
Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian 
Affairs. ISIS. Executive Documents, (House), 
45th Congress 3rd session. Doc. No 1 , pp. 545- 
547. [Serial No. 1850]. Washington, D.C. 

Davis, L. B., S. A. Aaberg, and J. G. Schmitt. 1995. 
The Obsidian Cliff Plateau Prehistoric Lithic 
Source, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. 
Selections from the Division of Cultural 
Resources No. 6. National Park Service, 
Rocky Mountain Region, Denver. Report 
submitted by Museum of the Rockies, Montana 
State University, Bozeman, Contract No. PX- 

Doane, G. C. 1871. Report of Lieutenant Gustavus C. 
Doane Upon the Socalled Yellowstone Expedi- 
tion of 1870. 41st Congress, 3rd Session; 
Senate Executive Document 51. Government 
Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 

Dorson, R. M. 1961a. 77^ Historical Validity of Oral 
Tradition: First Report. Presented Nov. 1961, 
Indian Claims Commission. Justice Depart- 
ment. Lilly Library, Indiana University, 
Bloomington, Indiana. 

Doty, J. D. 1864. Report of July 18, 1863. House 
Executive Documents, 38th Congress, First 
Session, Serial 1 182. Government Printing 
Office, Washington, D.C. 

Bibliography 241 

Francis, J. E. 1995. Root Procurement in the Upper 
Green River Basin: Archaeological Investiga- 
tions at 48SU1002. Paper presented at the 2nd 
Rocky Mountain Anthropological Conference, 
Steamboat Springs, Colorado. 

Fuller, H. 1875. Lemhi Valley Indian Reservation. 
Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian 
Affairs 44th Congress, 1 st Session, House 
exdoc (44-1), SN-1680. Washington, D.C. 

. 1 877. Lemhi Special Indian Agency. Annual 

Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs 
44th Congress, 2nd Session, House exdoc (44- 
2), SN-1749, Washington, D.C. 

Gilmore, M.'R. 1919. Uses of Plants by the Indians 
of the Upper Missouri River Region. In 33rd 
Annual Report of the Bureau of American 
Ethnology for the Years 1911-1912, pp. 43- 
154. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, 

Gregory, Lieutenant Colonel J. F. 1882. Report of 
Lieutenant General R H. Sherican...of his 
Expedition Through the Big Horn Mountains. 
Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 

Haines, Aubrey L. 1974. Yellowstone National Park: 
Its Exploration and Establishment. National 
Park Service. Government Printing Office, 
Washington, D.C. 

Hatton, C. 1881. Report of Shoshone and Bannock 
Agency, Wyoming. In Annual Report of the 
Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the Secre- 
tary of the Interior for 1881 . Government 
Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 

Hayden, F V. 1 872. Preliminary Report of the U.S. 
Geological Survey of Montana and Portions of 
Adjacent Territory. Government Printing 
Office, Washington, D.C. 

. 1883. Twelfth Annual Report. U.S. Geologi- 
cal and Geographical Survey of the Territories, 
Part 11. Government Printing Office. Washing- 
ton. D.C. 

Holmes, W. H. 1903. Aboriginal Pottery of the 
Eastern United States. Bureau of American 
Ethnology Twentieth Annual Report for 1898— 
1899, pp. 1-201. Government Printing Office, 
Washington, D.C. 

. 1910. Obsidian. Handbook of the American 

Indians North of Mexico. Part 2. Bureau of 
American Ethnology Bulletin 30:102. 

. 1919. Handbook of Aboriginal American 

Antiquities. Part 1: Introduction. The Lithic 
Industries. Bureau of American Ethnology 
Bulletin 60, Government Printing Office, 
Washington. D.C. 

Hornaday, W. T. 1889. The Extermination o\' the 

American Bison with a Sketch of its Discovery 
and Life History. Report of the U.S. National 
Museum, Part 2, pp. 367-548. Government 
Printing Office, Washington. D.C. 

Iddings, J. P. 1888. Obsidian Cliff, Yellowstone 

National Park. Seventh Annual Report of the 
United States Geological Survey to the 
Secretary of the Interior, 1885-1886. Govern- 
ment Printing Office, Washington. D.C. 

Jones, W. A. 1875. Report upon the Reconnaissance 
of Northwestern Wyoming, Including Yellow- 
stone National Park, Made in the Summer of 
1873. House Exec. Doc. 285, 43d Congress, 
1st Sess. Government Printing Office. Wash- 
ington, D.C. 

Lahren, L. A. 1971. Archaeological Investigations in 
the Upper Yellowstone Valley, Montana: A 
Preliminary Synthesis and Discussion. In 
Aboriginal Man and Environments on the 
Plateau of Northwest America, edited by A. H. 
Stryd and R. A. Smith, pp. 168-182. Univer- 
sity of Calgary Archaeological Association, 
Alberta, Canada. 

Loendorf, L., and D. Klinner. 1995. Deadfall Timber 
Structures in the Bighorn Canyon National 
Recreational Area, Montana. Report on file 
with Bighorn Canyon National Recreation 
Area, Fort Smith. Montana. 

Malouf, C. 1959. Preliminary Report, Yellowstone 
National Park Archeological Survey. Univer- 
sity of Montana, Missoula. 

Marler, G. 1993. Inventory of Thermal Features of 
the Firehole River Geyser Basins and other 
Selected Areas of Yellowstone National Park. 
Report of the U.S. Geological Survey. 
Washingon. D.C. 

Norris, P. W. 1877. Report Upon the Yellowstone 

National Park, to the Secretaiy of the Interior, 
for the Year 1877. Government Printing Office, 
Washington. D.C. 

. 1 879. Report Upon the Yellowstone National 

Park, to the Secretary of the Interior, for the 
Year 1878. Government Printing Office. 
Washington, D.C. 

. 1880a. Prehistoric Remains in Montana. 

Between Fort Ellis and the Yellowstone River. 
Annual Report of Regents of the Smithsonian 
Institution ... 1878. pp. 327-328. Government 
Printing Office. Washington. D.C. 

. 1880b. Report Upon the Yellowstone National 

Park, to the Secretary of the Interior, for the 
Year 1879. Government Printing Office. 
Washington, D.C. 

. 1881a. Annual Report of the Superintendent 


American Indians and Yellowstone National Park 

of the Yellowstone National Park, to the 
Secretary of the Interior, for the Year 1880. 
Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 

. 1881b. Fifth Annual Report of the Superinten- 
dent of the Yellowstone National Park to the 
Secretary of the Interior. Government Printing 
Office, Washington, D.C. 

Noste, N. V., and C. L. Bushey. 1987. Fire Responses 
of Shrubs of Dry Forest Habitat Types in 
Montana and Idaho. USDA Forest Intermoun- 
tain Research Station, General Technical 
Report INT-239. 

Parker, P. L., and T F. King. 1990. Guidelines for 
Evaluating and Documenting Traditional 
Cultural Properties. National Register Bulletin 
No. 38. National Park Service, Government 
Pringing Office, Washington, D.C. 

Parry, C. C. 1875. Botanical Report: List of Plants 

Collected. In Report upon the Reconnaissance 
of Northwestern Wyoming, Including Yellow- 
stone National Park, Made in the Summer of 
1873, by W. A. Jones, pp. 308-318. House 
Exec. Doc. 285, 43d Congress, 1st Sess., 
Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 

Pease, F. D. 1 87 1 . Report on Crow Agency, Montana. 
Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian 
Affairs 42nd Congress, 2nd Session, House 
exdoc (42-2), SN-1505. Washington, D.C. 

Rainsford, J. C. 1872. Lemhi Farm, Montana 

Territory. Annual Report of the Commissioner 
of Indian Affairs 42nd Congress, 3rd Session, 
House exdoc (42-3), SN-1560. Washington, 

Range Plant Handbook. 1937. Range Plant Hand- 
book. Prepared by Forest Service. United 
States Department of Agriculture. Washington, 

Ranger Naturalists Manual of Yellowstone National 
Park. 1927. Ranger Naturalists Manual of 
Yellowstone National Park. U.S. Department of 
the Interior, National Park Service, Yellowstone 
National Park. 

Rapson, D., M. Kornfeld, and M. L. Larson. 1995. 
The Henn Site Today and In Prehistory. In The 
Henn Site, 48TE1291: Early Archaic to 
Protohistoric Occupation at the Jackson 
National Fish Hatchery, Wyoming, edited by 
M. L. Larson, pp. 234-239. Technical Report 
No. 7, Department of Anthropology, University 
of Wyoming, Laramie. 

Raynolds, W. T. 1 868. The Report of Brevet Brigadier 
General W. F. Raynolds on the Exploration of 
the Yellowstone River and the Country Drained 
by that River. 40th Congress, 1 st Session; 

Senate Executive Document 77. Government 
Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 

Reeve, S. A. 1989. Prehistoric Settlements at the 

Yellowstone Lake Outlet, Yellowstone National 
Park, Wyoming. Jefferson Patterson Park and 
Museum, Maryland Division of Historical and 
Cultural Programs. Submitted to the National 
Park Service, Midwest Archeological Center, 
Lincoln, Contract No. PX-61 15-7-01 15. 

Reeve, S. A., T. E. Marceau, and G. A. Wright. 1980. 
Mitigation of the Sheepeater Bridge Site, 
48YE320, Yellowstone National Park. Submit- 
ted to the Midwest Archeological Center, 
Lincoln Nebraska (draft). 

Reeves, B., and S. Peacock. 1995. Our Mountains 

Are Our Pillows: An Ethnographic Overview of 
Glacier National Park, 2 vols. Calgary, 
Alberta, Canada. Submitted to the National 
Park Service, Rocky Mountain Regional 
Office, Denver. 

Sanders, P., R. Adams, and D. Wedel. 1996. The 1995 
Class III Cultural Resource Inventory of a 
Black Survey near Mammoth Yellowstone 
National Park, Project 254G. Office of the 
Wyoming State Archaeologist, Laramie. 
Typescript report on file, Yellowstone National 

Schullery, P. and L. H. Whittlesey. 1999a. Early 
Wildlife History of the Greater Yellowstone 
Ecosystem: An Interim Research Report 
Presented to the National Research Council, 
National Academy of Sciences Committee on 
"Ungulate Management in Yellowstone 
National Park." Yellowstone Center for 
Resources, Yellowstone National Park, 

Sebastian, L. 1993. Protecting Traditional Cultural 
Properties Traditional Cultural Properties 
Through the Section 106 Process. In Federal 
Register 61(104). 

Shanks, J. P. C, T. W. Bennett, and H. W. Reed. 
1873. Report of Special Commission to 
investigate the condition of the Indians in 
Idaho and adjacent Territories, Salt Lake City, 
Utah, November 17, 1873. In Papers Accompa- 
nying the Annual Reports of the Commissioner 
of Indian Affairs, 1873. No. "H" Exec. Docs., 
(House), 46th Cong. 3rd Sess., Doc. No. 1, Pt. 
5, pp. 525-527. [Serial No. 1601]. Washington 

Shoshone National Forest. 1941. Shoshone National 
Forest. United States Department of Agricul- 
ture. Forest Service. Government Printing 
Office, Washington, D.C. 

Bibliography 243 

Smith. A. I. 1871. Lemhi Valley. Montana Territory. 
Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian 
Affairs 42nd Congress, 2nd Session. House 
exdoc (42-2), SN-1505, Washington, D.C. 

Sowers, T. 1941. Final Report of the Wyoming 

Archaeological Survey. Work Projects Admin- 
istration, Cheyenne, Wyoming. 

Taylor, D. C. K. Wood, and J. J. Hoffman 1964. 

Preliminary Archeological Investigations in 
Yellowstone National Park. Montana State 
University, Missoula. Submitted to the Na- 
tional Park Service, Yellowstone National Park. 
Contract No. 14-10-232-320. 

Thompson, R. R. 1854. First Annual Report — Oregon 
Territory — South Side of the Columbia River 
between the 46"' and 44 ,h degrees Latitude 
between the Summits of the Rocky and 
Cascade Mountains. Government Printing 
Office, Washington, D.C. 

U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. 1 875. Report of Ft. 
Hall Agency in Annual Report of Commis- 
sioner of Indian Affairs to Secretary of Interior 
W. H. Danilson. Government Printing Office, 
Washington, D.C. 

. 1879. Letter from James I. Patten, U.S. Indian 

Agent, Shoshoni and Bannock Agency, to E. A. 
Hayt, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, refer- 
ring to the transfer of Ten Doy's Band to that 
reservation, June 1 1, 1879; National Archives, 
Record Group 75, Washington, D.C. 

. 1 880. Letters Received by the Office of 

Indian Affairs, 1 824-1 83 1 . National Archives 
Record Group 75, Washington. D.C. 

U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Expenditures 
for Indians and Yellowstone Park. 1886. To 
Provide for the Appointment of a Commission 
to Inspect and Report on the Condition of 
Indians, Indian Affairs, and for Other Pur- 
poses. Report to accompany bill H.R. 6973. 
49th Congress, 1st Session. Report No. 1076. 

U.S. Indian Claims Commission. 1974. Commission 
Findings on the Shoshone Indians. 1 1 Ind. CI. 
Comm. 387, October 16, 1962. In Shoshone 
Indians. Garland, New York. 

U.S. Office of the Secretary of the Interior. 1880. 
Records of the Office of the Secretary of the 
Interior Relating to Yellowstone National Park. 
Record Group 48. 

U.S. Statutes at Large. Public Law 88-577. Statutes 
at Large 78:890-896. 

Viall.J. A. 1871. Montana Superintendency. Office 
of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Annual 
Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs 
42nd Congress. 2nd Session House exdoc (42- 

2), SN-1505, Washington. D.C. 

Wright, G. A. 1977. A Preliminary Report on Jenny 
Lake II (48TE576): A Posthorse Shoshone Site 
in Grand Teton National Park. Department of 
Anthropology, State University of New York. 
Albany. Submitted to the National Park 
Service, Midwest Archeological Center, 

Wright, G., T. Marceau, FA. Calabrese. and Melodie 
Tune. 1978. Regional Assessment, Archeologi- 
cal Report. Greater Yellowstone Cooperative 
Regional Transportation Study. Submitted to 
the National Park Service, Midwest Archeo- 
logical Center, Lincoln. 

Wright. J. A. 1 879. Lemhi Indian Agency, Idaho. 

Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian 
Affairs 46th Congress. 2nd Session. House 
exdoc (46-2), SN-1910. Washington, D.C. 

Books and Articles 

Aginsky, B. 1939. Population Control in the Shanel 
(Porno) Tribe. American Sociological Review 

Aikens, C. M., and Y. T. W itherspoon. 1984 Great 

Basin Numic Prehistory. In Anthropology of the 
Desert West: Essays in Honor of Jesse D. 
Jennings, edited by C. J. Condie and D. D. 
Fowler. University of Utah Press. Salt Lake 

Allen, W. A. 1989 [1913]. The Sheep Eaters. Re- 
printed, Ye Galleon Press. Fairfield. Washing- 
ton. Originally published 1913, Shakespeare, 
New York. 

Alter, J. C. 1917. The Indian's Pathway to Yellow- 
stone (Cody Gateway). Motor 27:82-83. 140. 

. 195 1[ 1925]. James Bridget; Trapper, Fron- 
tiersman, Scout and Guide: A Historical 
Narrative. Long's College Book Company, 
Columbus, Ohio. Originally published 1925, 
Shepard Book Co.. Salt Lake City. 

Altherr, T. L. 1985. The Pajarito or Cliff dwellers" 
National Park Proposal 1900-1920. New 
Mexico Historical Review 60(3):271-294.